Bookstagram: For the Love of Aussie YA

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, our theme is For the Love of Words. I love all kinds of books — ebooks for the convenience (mostly), audiobooks for the hands-free alternative, and paperbacks for, as much as anything, the experience. I’d been increasing my collection of the first two types, but in the last 18 months or so paperbacks have really had a resurgence in my collection.

The reason is that in May last year I joined Instagram and became an avid bookstagrammer.

We’ve blogged about bookstagram before here on the blog. but as a refresher, a bookstagrammer is someone who is part of the Instagram community whose posts consist largely or entirely of photos of books.

The photography approaches can range from dusty, scruffy piles of library books dumped on a coffee table through to elaborate, professionally lit works of art. The amount of time that some people put into their bookstagram photos is mind boggling. Here are five amazing bookstagram photos by talented bookstagrammers, all linked back to the site so you can go, explore their work and follow them. (Because we are on WordPress I can’t embed them in a way that directly links back to the site; still, I’ve done my best to credit each of these amazing artists.)

All these photos were found via the #LoveOzYA hashtag — an Australian book-lovers movement that has even spawned a brilliant anthology: Begin, End, Begin. As a bonus, you can read my review of the anthology here!

Source: Booktineus, showing off Ellie Marney’s new cover (and with a nice use of a Kindle rather than a paperback … though mine is too old to do a book cover justice!)

Source: commasandampersands, with the amazing Undercurrent by Paula Weston

Source: Former Aussie Owned blogger Emily J Mead, showing off her eye for colours and a gorgeous copy of Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Source: Another former Aussie Owned blogger, Cait Drews, displaying the gorgeous interior art in Amie and Jay’s Illuminae (and, btw, contrats to Cait on her BOOK DEAL — OMG!)

Source: lostwithannie, with a minimalist style, gorgeous colours, and the #LoveOzYA anthology

Do you have a bookstagram account? Leave your handle in the comments so we can check it out!


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who spends more time than she should taking photos of her book collection. You can find her Instagram account — which is heavy on both books and PopVinyls — here.

Fear of failing as a writer

Source: Shutterstock

Happy Halloween, dear readers!

As you’ll already be aware, this month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking fears. I’ve already blogged about a couple of mine previously — during our 2014 Haunting Halloween blog hop, I shared a scary (and true) story of the last time took part in a seance, and talked about my fear of unstoppable, invisible death such as plague or nuclear fallout.

So now I have to choose from one of the two things that truly terrify me. One I’m still going to nope out of (something happening to my son), which leaves the other.

Fear of failure.

It’s not quite the imposter syndrome that Lauren blogged about last week, although that’s part of it. I know that whenever anyone from work congratulates me on a book release, I always downplay the accomplishment. I’m an indie author, and I think I’m still subconsciously hankering for the validation of a big contract — even though I know that’s silly and that actually completing six novels is still a pretty big deal.

It’s more that, this year, I have written barely a word that wasn’t a book review or a blog post. I did finish the last little bit of False Awakening in January, and I spent quite a bit of time doing edits on that to get it ready to publish … but original words? Almost none.

What if I can’t write anymore? What if I’ve forgotten how?!

I’m actually feeling ashamed right now, typing these words. Like I’m sharing a dirty secret. Because — even though I know it’s silly, even though I know I’m being overly harsh on myself — if I don’t write, doesn’t that make me failure as a writer?

So that’s my fear.

My problem isn’t writer’s block, I don’t think. I described it to a friend as “writer’s ennui”. Frankly, I think I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing, and trying to return to match fitness (such as I ever had) is so daunting it’s causing all my anxieties.

I am working to overcome it. I’ve been plotting out a new book — a steampunk fantasy, which is a new genre for me — and the world-building has really slowed me down. (Urban fantasy was way easier.) In the meantime, I’m trying to write a short story at the moment, for a local anthology that has a call out for submissions. Even if I don’t get selected, it’s all about building my writing muscles up again.

So there you have it. My embarrassing, paralysing fear.


While I’m here, I’m going to be cheeky and wish a happy book birthday to one of our former Aussie Owned and Read bloggers, K. A. Last. Her newest release, the delightfully creepy The Lovely Dark, comes out today. You can read my review of it here.


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author — she is an author, she’s sure of it. She even has five books on sale to prove it.

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

Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or smashing you with a wave). Other stories are the equivalent of riding a runaway stallion, all thundering hooves and branches slapping you in the face and maybe, if you’re lucky, the chance to pause and eat some grass at some point.

Okay, I’ll stop with the terrible similes!

The tools for adjusting a story’s pacing are varied; action and dialogue speed the story up, while description slows it down. Short sentences and paragraphs speed it up; long sentences and paragraphs slow it down. I think it’s best expressed by one of my favourite writers (who writes fast-paced speculative fiction and gives the best writing advice I’ve found on the internet), Chuck Wendig.

Further reading … but not, like, in a boring way

I love to give book recommendations, and, happily, I can readily bring to mind two five-star favourites with very different levels of pacing. (Both are speculative fiction, because that’s how I roll.)

The first is Aussie urban fantasy Shadows by Paula Weston (and in fact the whole Rephaim series). The four books of this series are set over the course of a couple of weeks. Sure, there are flashbacks, particularly in the last one, but still. It really gives you a sense for how exhausted the characters must be, the urgency of the storyline. When they had a chance to pause for food or a sleep I was relieved on their behalf! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

 

The second book I’m recommending is one I just finished, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. This man is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. (I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long.) Because Sanderson spends so much time building his worlds and layering them with backstory and foreshadowing, the books are immersive and the build of tension is slower than in some other stories, but the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. And there are flashes of action that keep you gripped.

 


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose latest urban fantasy, False Awakening, hits the shelves at the end of August. Preorders are now available from your favourite ebook retailers.

Advice, originality and vampires

You think I’d know better than to take the last post slot of the month when we’re doing an advice theme. By this point, dear reader, you’ve seen all sorts of excellent “what I wish I knew” advice posts — and my main messages to my younger self would be very similar to those already described:

So I considered my main advice to younger reader me, and decided it would be “one format of books is not better than another — and, BTW, audiobooks are awesome so get onto that”. But I’ve blogged about the audiobook thing here too.

Given the situation, I lamented to a friend that “being original at this point is impossible”. His reply? “Sounds like a good point in itself.”

Thank you, sir. *doffs hat*

Originality and vampires

One of the things I struggled with when I first started seriously trying to write was that I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I loved vampire stories — but, by this point Twilight was a huge hit, and everyone was writing vampire stories. How on earth could I tell a new story in a market so saturated? (I actually found my plot notes for my vampire novel the other day. It’s still tempting, not gonna lie.)

In the end, I decided on fae instead, as something a little fresher, and Isla’s Inheritance was the ultimate result. But Isla’s ability to see and manipulate emotions was originally born out of the idea of a psychic vampire. Her ability to create a supernatural human servant is evocative of Dracula’s ability to create human slaves (though her cousin gets a better deal than poor Renfield). In other words, I took existing ideas, jumbled them around and came up with something new.

 

Source: Goodreads

Obviously, the state of the market is a factor if your ultimate goal is to publish traditionally. If a publisher already has a vampire story on the books, they don’t need another one competing with the first. But that doesn’t mean that two books about vampires are fungible (I love that word; so fun to say). They aren’t interchangeable. Just because Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, that doesn’t mean that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is unoriginal. (Anything but.)

Originality and major movie franchises

I found a great example of the way that one idea can give rise to two very different, and wildly successful, stories. Here is a synopsis for your consideration:

I read that and immediately thought of Harry Potter. But it is, of course, also a description of Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars.

Originality and advice

So, coming back to our post theme this month, what’s the take-home message for my younger self?

Whether you’re sitting down to write your first book or struggling to write your seventh, it is important to write something you are passionate about. At the very least, those other books on the same subject as yours don’t have the thing that your book has: your voice.

Stop looking for excuses.

Just write the book.


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose fifth book, False Awakening, is scheduled for release at the end of August. 

Four Times I Got on the Wrong Ship (aka Unlucky in Love Triangles)

Featured image source: Shutterstock

Ship noun (in fanfic) 1. a relationship.
— verb (t) (shipped, shipping
2. to create a relationship between two characters in a work of fiction, as in the genre fanfic.
[shortened form of relationship]

— Macquarie Dictionary

Love triangles* are one of the biggest tropes in modern YA and in speculative fiction more broadly, usually of the two-guys-one-girl variety.

(The geometry nerd in me has to point out that it usually isn’t a triangle but two lines with one connecting point. Gale never snogged Peeta in The Hunger Games … though it’d be the work of a few seconds to turn up a fanfic where he did. Anyway, moving on…)

For a writer, they are loads of fun and a great source of romantic and dramatic tension. For a reader, love triangles can be the ultimate in wish fulfilment. But I have another game that I play when I read books with a love triangle, which is “pick my favourite love interest and watch them lose”. If love triangles are a race between the (usually) two guys for the (usually) one girl, don’t back my bet, people. I almost always get on the wrong ship. Part of that is because I tend to go for the best friend character, the boy next door, rather than the brooding and enigmatic one, and in urban fantasy (my favourite genre) Mr Enigma always wins. 

Four times I got on the wrong ship

Katniss, Peeta and Gale (The Hunger Games) — I was pro-Gale in the beginning, though I did have a soft spot for Peeta (as the boy next door) as well. It just seemed obvious to me that Katniss was hung up on Gale from the start. Of course, then she got broken and he couldn’t deal. By halfway through the third book I had changed ships, but for the first two? I got it totally wrong. 

Hermione, Ron and Harry (Harry Potter) — It’s been a while since I read the books, but I don’t remember JK Rowling inserting much in the way of a love triangle into them. It was more that I was on the Harry ship from the start, and I could never quite deal with the whole Ron thing. Sorry, Ron. 

Clary, Jace and Simon (The Mortal Instruments) — This was a textbook case of me liking the nerdy, normal best friend over the brooding and arrogant Mr Enigma. Given the allegations that Simon is based off Harry from Cassandra Clare’s fanfic-writing days (and Jace is Draco), that shouldn’t be a surprise. At least I’m consistent!

Alyssa, Jeb and Morpheus (Splintered) — This was a race to the bottom between the boys for me. Jeb was the literal boy next door but I hated his domineering attitude even more than I hated Morpheus’s manipulations. At least Morpheus had playfulness going for him, but I wanted neither of them to end up with Alyssa — which, again, was the opposite of what happened. (I only read the first two Twilight books, but I felt the same way about Edward and Jacob. Hard pass on both.) 

Do you play the “who will win” game when you read books with love triangles? Are you better at picking the ship that wins out in the end? Or do you go your own way, fanfic style, and create a ship outside the parameters of the original story — such as Draco and Harry, or McGonnagall and Snape? Leave a comment telling us about your favourite ship!


Cassandra PageCassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer who has used used love triangles a couple of times, in her Isla’s Inheritance YA urban fantasy trilogy and her Lucid Dreaming adult urban fantasy duology (the second book of which comes out later this year). Mmm, triangle-y. 

 

Four non-traditional antagonists

Source: Shutterstock

This month we’re talking about villains; we’ve already had posts about some excellent bad guys, but I thought I’d talk a little about four less tangible villains that I’d argue are even more threatening than your Voldemorts and Levanas by virtue of the fact that they often can’t be beaten, no matter what. They also aren’t always a solo act — they might combine forces with a more-traditional bad guy to deliver a one-two punch to our hero.

War

While in some books there might be a villain behind the war, someone that can be found and beaten, quite often they remain a mysterious background force rather than a real person. For example, in Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden, the characters never fight the unseen general presumably directing the invasion of Australia. Even the individual invading soldiers that they encounter aren’t dastardly criminals in their own right, they’re (mostly) guys doing a job. Alien invasions are another example where the war is bigger than one villainous person.

Disease

This list is starting to read a little bit like the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! But disease (and its unkind sidekick, death) is a pretty common bad guy in YA fiction — you need look no further than cancer in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or any number of other books where one of the characters struggles with illness. You could also argue that disease is the bad guy in certain types of zombie fiction — the types where zombification is contagious.

Time

You often see time as the bad guy in the sorts of books that have blurbs that include phrases such as “in a race against time”. In YA, time is also present in the looming end of high school for characters who don’t want to face that their life is about to change and their friends are going to move away. A great example is The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil.

The environment

I love survival fiction. Loooooove it. The sort of books that do environment as villain well include These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner — with the characters’ trek across the surface of an uninhabited planet — and the first two Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. The latter take the environment-as-villain concept to a new level by having it actually respond to thwart the characters … albeit at the direction of some more-traditional bad guys. (Natural disasters are an obvious sub-category here, though they aren’t my usual genre so I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.)

These are my top four, but there are other candidates, such as famine (the last of the Horsemen!) and poverty. What are your favourite books where the things the characters struggle against most aren’t each other?


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who has just revealed the cover for her fifth novel, False Awakening. You can see it here and read an excerpt. You know, if you want to.