Birthday Terror

October is the month of scary and here at Aussie Owned and Read we’re looking at all things frightening.

I’m not looking for singing or anything (🙂) but last week was my birthday.

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My terrifying Tasmanian Tiger cake

Not just any day last week but Friday…. Friday the 13th. In October. I was kind of expecting something bad to happen.

It didn’t.

(I was amazingly spoilt in fact, although I did get another year older)

However, it made me think of how often in books a birthday plays an important part and it’s not always a good one. A birthday is a time of change and in some cases of fear. Not just of getting old but of a shift, in society. In contemporary books that can be the shift of being able to drive or drink legally. Leave home, vote or leave school.

All of which can be a source of fear for a character (or a reader).

Then there’s becoming a wizard in a certain series.

Or perhaps a time of a choice that must be made and can determine one’s whole life like in Divergent by Veronica Roth. Then there’s Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins where every birthday gives you a greater chance of being selected.

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Are you afraid of a birthday?

Should a character be?

 

🙂

Beck

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I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction. My next book LAST DAYS OF US is out in Dec with HQ Young Adult.

Halloween Reads for Cowards

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Image via Pixabay

October means ghosts, ghouls and all things ghastly for those who enjoy Halloween. So this month on Aussie Owned and Read we thought we’d tackle the frightening and scary in all its different manifestations.

I confess, I’m not a fan of scary. I won’t be lining up to see the new remake of Stephen King’s IT. Ever. I’m more of a Ghostbusters kinda girl. You know, where the ghosts and ghouls are tempered down with quirk or humour (and a dose of Chris Hemsworth). So here’s a list of Halloween ‘horror’ novels for scaredy Kats like me:

  1. The Life of a Teenage Body Snatcher by Doug MacLeod (Penguin)

Life of a Teenage Body Snatcher Cover

Thomas Timewell is sixteen and a gentleman. When he meets a body-snatcher called Plenitude, his whole life changes. He is pursued by cutthroats, a gypsy with a meat cleaver, and even the Grim Reaper. More disturbing still, Thomas has to spend an evening with the worst novelist in the world.
A very black comedy set in England in 1828, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher shows what terrible events can occur when you try to do the right thing. ‘Never a good idea,’ as Thomas’s mother would say.

I read this wacky Aussie historical when it was first published seven years ago. It’s got its share of the macabre but it’s not exactly scary. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well as gross bits. Not one for the squeamish, but heaps of fun.

2. The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner (Allen & Unwin)

The Dead I Know Cover

You wake in the middle of the night, your arms and feet pinned by strong hands. As you thrash your way to consciousness, a calm voice says, ‘Steady. We’re here to help.’ Your mind registers a paramedic, a policeman, an ambulance. You are lying on the lookout at Keeper’s Point, the lookout Amanda Creen supposedly threw herself off. And you have absolutely no idea how you got there.

Aaron Rowe walks in his sleep. He has dreams he can’t explain, and memories he can’t recover. Death doesn’t scare him – his new job with a funeral director may even be his salvation. But if he doesn’t discover the truth about his hidden past soon, he may fall asleep one night and never wake up.

The Dead I Know is an intense psychological thriller, but it also fits a Halloween theme nicely because the protagonist Aaron works in a morgue. Interestingly, it’s not the dead people who he needs to be afraid of most.

  1. The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinx (Allen & Unwin)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group

Nina became a vampire in 1973 when she was fifteen, and she hasn’t aged a day since then. But she hasn’t had any fun either, because her life is so sickly and boring.

It becomes even worse when one of the other vampires in her therapy group is staked by a mysterious slayer. Threatened with extinction, she and her fellow vampires set out to hunt down the culprit. Trouble is, they soon find themselves up against some gun-toting werewolf traffickers who’ll stop at nothing.

Can a bunch of feeble couch potatoes win a fight like this? Is there more to being a vampire than meets the eye?

I love me a good vampire spoof and this book delivers. Not only does it provide a hilarious alternative addition to the vampire genre, it’s got romance and action to boot!

  1. Gap Year in Ghost Town (Allen & Unwin)

Gap Year in Ghost Town

The Marin family run a two-man operation in inner-city Melbourne. Anton has the ghost-sight, but his father does not. Theirs is a gentle approach to ghost hunting. Rani Cross, combat-skilled ghost hunter from the Company of the Righteous, is all about the slashing.

Anton and Rani don’t see eye to eye – but with a massive spike in violent ghost manifestations, they must find a way to work together.

And what with all the blindingly terrifying brushes with death, Anton must use his gap year to decide if he really wants in on the whole ghost-hunting biz . . .

I am yet to read this, but it looks PERFECT for horror-cowards like me. According to the publisher it’s smart, snappy and funny. And scary. It DOES say it’s scary. Still, the cover alone might be worth the risk.

What are some of your favourite scary – or not so scary – Halloween reads?

 


Kat Colmer AuthorKat Colmer is a Young 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. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is out now with ENTANGLED TEEN and is definitely more swoony than scary. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Blasting into the Past

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres, and not just because I enjoy writing it! It has to be one of the most wide ranging and encompassing genres available. From Europe to the Americas, to Asia, and Africa, even the Pacific, Hist Fic can tell tales of any culture or nation in the world, add into that thousands of years of time to work with and there’s a smorgasbord of potential stories to be explored.

My favorite thing about Hist Fic is learning about other cultures, how they developed, and why people within them do and feel in current times due to those historical influences. There’s so many sub genres within Hist Fic, like Regency, WWI & WWII, American Civil War, but outside of those popular western histories is Native American, South American, Ancient History, Chinese, Japanese and so many more. You can literally travel the world in Hist Fic and meet incredible people that are mere blips in Western culture.

Historical Fiction can also include Mythology. This sub genre is where things get interesting as this too includes myths from all around the world. While most people think of Greece or Rome, I have read some amazing books about Hindus, Native Americans, and Celts. Even Disney with Moana has ventured into this realm.

So, here is some of my favorite Historical Fiction. Click on the links below to see their details and my reviews. What are your favorites, and why do you enjoy Hist Fic?

Mrs. Poe,  The Woman on the Painted Horse,  SarahThe Sword of Attila

Fire of the Covenant,  Horrible Histories,  The Cenote

Souls EntwinedEchoes of Dark and Light

 

Exploring Genre: Urban Fantasy

September’s theme is genre, so this month we’ll each be focusing on a different genre and highlighting what makes it great. Today I’m taking a look at my favourite genre to read (and write): urban fantasy.

“Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the arrival of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, real or imagined.”Wikipedia

As a reader, urban fantasy can be a tricky genre to love. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but it’s true — quite often I go into a book thinking that it’s urban fantasy only to discover that it’s urban fantasy’s kissing cousin, paranormal romance. They share a lot of the same trappings, in that they tend to feature paranormal beings in the real world. And the covers are sometimes quite similar, though urban fantasy book covers lean towards a solo character rather than an embracing pair, and generally feature less pretty dresses and more, well, leather and weapons.

But the fundamental difference is whether the plot emphasises romance as a central element. In paranormal romance, the romance is, unsurprisingly, the main plot (think Twilight), whereas in urban fantasy there is often a romance, but it takes a back seat to other goings on in the world (think Sookie Stackhouse or The Mortal Instruments).

In urban fantasy, you quite often see elements of other genres: mystery, thriller, adventure, superhero, sci-fi. My favourites are the ones with a mystery, a plot twist … and some steamy romance. (I do love a juicy romance, but I’m greedy: I like to have that and more. 😉 )

I was going to include maybe three of my favourite urban fantasies, but who am I kidding? I can’t stop at three!

(Looking at these covers, I think I should add tank tops to “leather” and “weapons”.)


Cassandra Page is an author, editor, geek, coffee addict, Ravenclaw and bookstagrammer. Her fifth urban fantasy novel, False Awakening, was released on 26 August

Exploring Genre: Science Fiction

September’s theme is genre, so this month we’ll each be focusing on a different genre and highlighting what makes it great. Today I’m taking a look at one of my favs; science fiction.

Robots, aliens, space travel, technology … what’s cool about sci fi is the fact that it could almost be reality. It doesn’t take too much of a bend of the imagination to believe/know that a sci-fi reality is just around the corner. With artificial intelligence moving at the current rate it won’t be long before driverless transports, humanoid robots, and computer creating computers will be the norm. Umm guys … the Terminator could actually exist in this decade! I’m not sure if I should be excited or scared by that. Same goes for the scientists who are working on invisibility creating technology right now. We sure live in exciting times.

But let’s talk about sci-fic as a genre. It’s a pretty big umbrella that takes in everything from aliens to other worlds to technology to altered takes on modern day earth. There are so, so many sub genres in sci fic, but I won’t go into those today. What I will say is that science fiction (at its core and at its best) is about using a technology or an advancement to make a comment about the prevailing human condition. The setting of space, or alternate reality, or advanced technology is just that; a setting that distances the reader from their own reality so any commentaries made by the story about the potential of the human race in general are more willingly accepted. Avatar for example, is just as much about current environmental issues as it is about cool blue-skinned aliens. And that is one of the things I love most about sci-fi;

But now we’re getting too deep for a Thursday morning… so, let’s talk awesome books! Some of my favourite science fiction novels include;

Under The Never Sky: I’m still not sure if this one is set on a futuristic earth, or a new planet, but either way it’s great domed-society read about a girl who’s cast out and forced to battle the raging elements outside the dome. Such a fun read.

The Lunar Chronicles: A cyborg main character, people living on the moon, and hover ships all rolled into fairytale retellings. Yes please!

The Lux Series: Aliens integrated into earthen society, a book blogger, a brooding bad boy, and a steamy romance. Umm, sign me up!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The sole survivor of the destruction of earth hitchhiking his way through space. With all the silly dad jokes and puns, there’s nothing not to love about Hitchhikers.

And that, dear readers, is why I love science fiction. It’s semi-real (without being too heavy), it’s exciting and it’s almost like a peek into the future! What genre do you hanker for? I’d love to hear all about your favourite in the comments.

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Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

Elements of a Great Story: Editing

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Aussie Owned and Read has spent this month exploring the elements of a good story. Their awesome articles have explored ingredients such as the importance of authentic characters – by identifying their values, their beliefs, their reactions; the power of dialogue – by including conflict and subtext; the importance of pacing – how we can pick it up with action and dialogue and short, punchy sentences; and the power of setting – one that has been artfully woven through our scenes and characters. It really impresses on us the complexity and layers a good story needs to grasp readers. That’s a lot of balls to juggle…

How do you make sure the creation you’ve spent untold hours and sacrifices for has ticked all these boxes? You harness the power of editing.

Editing is the process of putting a new, very valuable and incredibly important, lens on your story. Stories are our babies. And just like our children or siblings, we tend to overlook (or plain old not see) their flaws. In our eyes, their strengths outshine any flaws they might have. With our family, that’s the way it should be. With a product that’s going out to for stranger’s consumption, we need to raise the bar. Editing creates the space you need to look at your story in a new way, find the weaknesses, and shore up the strengths. Luckily, there’s more than one way to do it, and it can be free.

  1. Self-Editing

There is a lot of information out there, blog, books and courses, about undertaking your own editing. If you want to hone the skills, then I suggest spending some time with Google. In the meantime the first step I recommend if you’re going to self-edit is to let your manuscript rest for a spell. And I’m talking at least a month. The first thing that will happen when you come back with fresh eyes is issues (that you hadn’t considered) will leap out so fast you’ll wonder how you missed them. Next, consider a lens that you’d like to elevate to next level; maybe dialogue, maybe pacing, maybe weaving setting through more seamlessly, and go through your manuscript with that filter in mind. Last, read your manuscript out loud, you’ll be surprised what you pick up.

This stage is important and shouldn’t be skipped, but it depends on you knowing your strengths and weaknesses in the craft of writing, and I’m not sure I’ve found a writer who has that level of objectivity. I know I don’t. This is why I recommend the next step as a vital part of making your story ready for publishing.

  1. Critique Partners

The discovery of my critique partners took my writing from a level I didn’t know I’d settled into, to a level I couldn’t have predicted. Critique partners are fellow lovers of the written word that have some understanding of the anatomy of a good story. As a general rule, these are fellow writers, and you exchange your work to provide honest and encouraging feedback. Critique partners can find things you missed, plot threads you’ve left dangling, characters that are hard to connect with. What’s even more rewarding, is finding critique partners that share the writing journey with you – the highs, the lows, the unexpected turns. They provide a level of support and encouragement that is impossible to quantify.

The points you need to keep in mind is being selective in your critique partners – you want a critique partner you can trust; one that is insightful, knowledgeable, discerning, and kind. Sometimes that takes more than one try. The other point to consider is that critique partners are still invested in your writer’s ego (they don’t want to hurt your feelings), which can cloud judgement and complete honesty. They also don’t necessarily have the qualifications, knowledge and experience a professional editor can offer.

  1. Hire a Professional Editor

As a developmental editor, and a writer that has had my manuscripts professionally edited, I’m a firm believer in the power of hiring a professional editor. If you hire an editor, you get the experience and knowledge I just mentioned, but more importantly, you’re paying for objectivity that values the power your story over the protection of your ego. An editor will delve into your masterpiece, pull out the gems, and shine a light on the holes. Character inconsistencies, POV issues, story structure slumps will all be identified in a constructive way. Because you’ll be given a road map on how to make your story the best it can be. And you’ll learn from it. You’ll experience ‘aha’ moments that will open a whole new world of possibilities, which will shape your future writing endeavours. In my opinion, that’s money well spent.

What’s your experience of editing your book? How did you take your manuscript to the next level?


Tamar Profile PhotoTamar Sloan is a freelance developmental editor and the creator of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Come and explore it at www.psychwriter.com.au. Tamar is also a passionate writer of award-winning young adult romance. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com. You can connect with Tamar on Twitter or Facebook.

Ramp up that Tension!

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It’s true! But they also want a great story! And tension is a way to keep them with you all the way. 

One of the things I find when I’m judging comp entries is that aspiring authors often confuse tension with pacing or with action. Too much pace with no breaks or undulations will certainly cause tension – but the wrong kind of tension. In short the kind that either lands your book against a wall or your reader in the ER. Ditto for action. With regards to these gently,  building and appropriate placing are the keywords. And sure, while both can help maintain the tension in your novel, they aren’t the tension. 

So, how can you build tension? Below are six things I’ve used that might help.

  1. Create characters that the reader connects with.

Once your reader has formed a connection with your character, tension is already built into that relationship. Think about someone you love or care about.  Now think about something bad happening to that person. Or them being in conflict with another; a conflict that causing them great pain and anguish; impacting on their life… Is your heart beginning to beat faster? A tightness around your chest? Pressure building in your head? No,  put the phone down. You’re not having a heart attack. (I hope!) What you’re experiencing is building tension. It’s the same with our stories. If we’ve created characters the reader readily empathises with, then the more we torture them, the more the reader worries and the more tension we build.

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  1. Keep the stakes high

A simple and long held equation for ‘story’ is:

Goal,  Motivation and Conflict   or  WHAT, WHY & WHO.

Broken down this means: WHAT does your character want? WHY does your character need this? WHO (or what) is preventing them from getting it?

 Next of course we add HOW  – as in ‘how’ do they overcome this – and we have story

There is always something at stake when you write a story. It might be the achievement of a life-long goal; the uncertainty of a love relationship; protecting a property that’s in danger of being lost to the family or protecting a child or sibling – or even a parent.  It could be needing to clear your name. It could be the strength to survive or to gain freedom. It could be anything.  That’s not the main point. The main point is that it must be BIG. And it must be plausible. And not achieving it must come at a price. A huge price.  This is teetering on the edge of a precipice tension.

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  1. Raising the stakes.

Tension in your stories isn’t static. It moves. It swells and abates. And swells again. And each time it swells, it rises higher.

Ian Irvine says of tension:  You can either raise the prize for succeeding, or raise the price of failure – or, preferably, both at the same time.”

And you keep raising those stakes.  Just when the reader takes a sigh of relief because some of the obstacles have eased, ramp it up. And ramp it even higher.

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  1. The Fear Factor

Fear is a great tension builder. When I workshop young or new authors I have them do a character profile. I’m not so interested in the basics such as looks and how many siblings they have etc, as I am in what lies underneath. One of those questions they answer in the profile concerns the character’s greatest fear. Greatest fear.  Once you have that answer you have a potential part of your plot – because one of the best ways to build tension in your story is to have that character face that fear. What is your greatest fear? The one that brings you out in a sweat  or paralyses you to the spot? Think about facing it.

How much tension are you feeling now?

Everybody has those fears.  Every one has doubts. Your character has those fears – and doubts – so use them!

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  1. Add a ticking clock

Nothing builds tension faster than a deadline.  If you don’t get the ransom to the dognapper by 12 midnight, the dog bites the dust. Again, take this back to your own life. What’s it like in your house in the morning as you scramble to get out the house to get to work on time? Maybe you’re super organised – in which case skip this. But if you’re like the majority of people, it’s madness. You have one eye on the clock; you’re running from point to point. You’re doubling up on yourself because you keep forgetting things in your haste. It gets worse:  The dog has hidden one shoe. (In which case, reconsider the ransom payment?) The child has remembered the assignment is due today. You’re at screaming point. By the time you’re out the door you feel like you’ve done a day’s work. Right?

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Again, this is tension. Any movie, book or show (Twenty Four?) we watch or read, that has a deadline element has automatic tension built in. And if you do it well, the reader won’t be able to look away.

6. Match the setting to the mood

If you’re building more than emotional tension – or not – use the elements to help build the mood. Make it as difficult for your character as possible. Always. For example is there’s evil afoot or if it’s a dark scary moment, ensure your setting and weather support that for you. A problem in the daytime is a heap less scary or worrying than one at night when you’re alone. Or when it’s raining. Or storming…  Wind howling. And the shutters are rattling and the trees are scraping the windows… 

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I’m sure you could research and find a trillion other ways to build tension and – most importantly –  maintain it. But I hope these six points are of some use. I can feel my BP already beginning to rise as I await your responses…

 

kaz-profiles-043Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.