Traditional Publishing

How Dealing in Facts Helps Fiction Writers Hone Their Craft – Wednesday September 14, 2022

When I left my career in journalism in 2018 to study creative writing, I was worried that my training as a news reporter might make it hard for me to write fiction. After all, if there was one thing my time in newsrooms taught me, it was that I wasn’t allowed to make things up. The facts were the facts. Dates and stats needed to be tripled-checked, statements and names confirmed, timelines cross-referenced, and if I ever got anything wrong, a correction had to be issued as I sulked in embarrassment.

And so, getting started in fiction felt like pulling teeth. I continuously doubted myself, unsure if the characters and events I concocted were believable. For months I wrote while looking over my shoulder, as though the Fact Police were going to tackle me to the ground for daring to do make things up. But as I kept writing, spinning up my novel, All That’s Left Unsaida literary mystery about a young woman who tracks down the witnesses to her brother’s grisly murder, determined to find out what happened and why they each claim to have seen nothing—much of my journalism training, which I’d thought would hold me back from writing fiction, actually helped me draft, revise, and sell my novel.

Below are some of the skills I picked up as a journalist that, rather than being a hindrance, have been an enormous help in writing fiction.

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Five Writers on How Writing with Creative Constraints Unlocked Their Projects – Tuesday September 13, 2022

I have long been an anxious writer. Every sentence written reminds me of the hundreds more that could have stood in its place, missed opportunities for assonance or characterization, clauses left dependent that could have—should have—been made independent. Often it takes all the perseverance I can muster not to leap up and gaze out the window, or better yet, flip open a book by somebody who’s already figured it all out.

For me, the anxiety of writing is the anxiety of possibility. Musical performance—despite all its lore of stage-fright, jitters, and choking—has been my salvation. When performing in front of an audience, a wrong note can’t be taken back; the audience hears it immediately. I find this precariousness strangely freeing. Rather than obsessing over what was previously played, I’m forced to move forward, adapt, and accept my failings. Mistakes become opportunities; a wrong note may suddenly evoke some new cluster of tones I wouldn’t have found otherwise, or veer a solo into provocative territory.

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Val McDermid, Michael Robotham, J.P. Pomare on writing crime – Monday September 12, 2022

Three of the world's finest crime writers; Val McDermid, Michael Robotham and J.P. Pomare join Kathryn in the studio. The trio are touring New Zealand this week, with an event, Crime after Crime.

Val McDermid is crime-writing royalty, with over 18 million copies of her books sold to date and several TV adaptions.

Michael Robotham is Australia's hottest crime writer; his Joseph O'Loughlin series was a worldwide bestseller and The Suspect is now streaming on TVNZ.

He's well known for The Secrets She Keeps, now an award-winning TV drama, and his latest book Lying Beside You is an international bestseller.

Rotorua-born J.P. Pomare is no stranger to Aotearoa's shores - his debut novel Call Me Evie won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel, and his second book In the Clearing will soon grace our screens via Disney+.  The Wrong Woman is his fifth book. 

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Publishing needs JK Rowling to be a monster – Wednesday September 7, 2022

The trouble with JK Rowling is that she has done nothing wrong. Back in 2020, she wrote a carefully worded, compassionate piece about sex and gender. It’s here if you want to read it. 

In it, she described “a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well”. At no point did she express the even mildest disapproval of gender non-conformity, let alone call for “trans genocide”. “Trans people,” she wrote, “need and deserve protection […] I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

The response to this piece was obscene. Some of it’s here if you want to read it. I am aware, however, that checking original source material is not the done thing when it comes to having an opinion on Rowling. 

Shortly after the publication of her blogpost, countless op-eds appeared explaining what Rowling “really” meant. To summarise them all, Rowling was lying about not hating trans people and wanting them dead, and you could tell this by the fact she said she didn’t hate trans people and didn’t want them dead. 

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The Guardian view on BookTok: a welcome disruptor of the status quo – Monday September 5, 2022

The bestselling book in the UK last week, and of the year so far, is an American novel that was published in 2016. If that sentence sounds implausible, the odds are you have not yet caught up with the latest social media sensation. It is called BookTok and it is a strand on the video-sharing platform TikTok that was started by young book lovers at the height of the Covid pandemic.

One of its standout successes is Colleen Hoover, a 42-year-old former social worker from Texas, whose young adult romance It Ends With Us has sold an astonishing 427,000 copies in the UK so far in 2022, according to the market analyst Nielsen BookScan. This outnumbers any other book in any format or genre.

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So you want to write a bestseller? Try these top tips – Sunday September 4, 2022

Everyone, they say, has a book in them. But where do you start? With the Melbourne Writers Festival about to open, we asked leading authors to give their tips on how to create a literary triumph.

Fiction: C.S. Pacat

Write the book that you want to read. This is a cliche, but few people actually do it. Imagine that you are walking into a bookshop or a library. There is a book you are looking for but never find. The reason you never find it is that this book doesn’t exist on the shelves. This book exists only within you.

This is the book you must write. You will know some things about it instinctively. Imagine yourself searching for it seriously. Close your eyes. You know what genre it is. You know how you want it to make you feel. Write those things down. Do you know anything more? The type of characters it might have? The setting? The type of journey it takes you on?

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Five Steps to Writing a Crime Novel Inspired by Your Family (Without Making Everyone Hate You) – Saturday September 3, 2022

“Write what you know.” It’s the second-oldest piece of writing advice there is, right behind “show, don’t tell.” There’s a long rich history of authors weaving details of their personal lives into stories, to varying degrees and with varying regard for subtlety. There are full-on roman à clefs. Protagonists who just happen to be depressed, struggling authors. Stephen King books set in Maine. 

It’s an old piece of advice because it works. The more you pull from real firsthand experiences, the more your writing feels… real. Revelatory stuff, I know. But pulling from life can get complicated in a darker genre like crime. At least horror authors like King can mask their real-life inspirations with the supernatural and over-the-top: ex-lovers transform into vampires; a cocaine addiction becomes a rabid dog (in Maine) or a deranged fan (of an author); grief is an Indian burial ground. Crime offers no such crutch. The genre is too grounded in real life for us to mask much, if anything. The way I see it, crime fiction equals horror plus realism. Every character is human and usually irredeemably flawed, even the good guys.

What I’m getting at is that writing a crime novel is a uniquely great way to piss off the real people you end up writing about. Especially if they’re family. And what else is a young, inexperienced author supposed to write credibly about?

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Elisa Gabbert on Writing and Capturing Beginner’s Luck – Saturday September 3, 2022

For a period in the late 2010s, I had the good fortune of belonging to a regular poker game. Whenever someone new would join us, confessing they didn’t really know how to play, my friend Mike and I would tell them, “That means you’re going to win.” And they always did.

Beginner’s luck is real. Poker always depends on luck, but there’s something else, beneath the luck, that feeds the luck, a root system. Beginners aren’t afraid. They have no performance anxiety, because they have nothing to live up to. They don’t know the other players’ habits, so they have no distracting expectations. And they’re not afraid of their own cards, whether they’re especially good or bad, because they don’t know how good or bad their cards are; they have no internalized sense of the odds. They’re unafraid out of ignorance—you might say, unafraid for the wrong reasons—but fearlessness is still an advantage, and it’s a skill you have to relearn. Most players, after their beginner’s luck runs out, stay mediocre because they never do.

People say “Trust the process,” but I’ve found there’s a danger in trusting my writing process too much. Once a process becomes fully routinized, I’m not learning anything. I know I can write a short literary essay—what a friend of mine calls an “I noticed a thing” essay—of a thousand or so words. I wrote a book of those. I know I can write a research-based essay of about four thousand words, generally in three sections—almost three subsequent essays that become a super-essay. I wrote a book of those too. I know there’s a certain amount of material, mostly books and other writing, I can consume to have enough interesting thoughts to build an essay around. I didn’t always know that—I had to try and succeed many times in a row first. (The only measure of success: I liked the effect.)

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How do you know if your writing is considered “literary fiction”? – Thursday September 1, 2022

Generally, genre or category fiction is more plot-driven, while literary fiction is more character-driven. In either case, the story needs an arc or shape. However, I think of commercial or category fiction as being driven largely by action than by the character’s introspection. In literary fiction one usually finds more detail about how each character thinks and feels as it relates to the storyline. I’d be interested to know how others define the difference.

Wikipedia defines it this way:

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Six Things I've Learned About Writing In My Sixties – Wednesday August 31, 2022

I’ve been writing all my life but for most of it, it was a secret indulgence, like swimming naked in the sea at night or eating chocolate belonging to my children. Most people who knew me didn’t realise that I wrote, and wouldn’t have been interested if they had. I wrote snippets here and there, short stories and even shorter things that didn’t even warrant the title ‘story’. Observations, notes for characters, there was no pattern to it and no discipline. I had five children and when they were little they slept in a crib on wheels. I could rock the crib with my foot while I lay on the bed propped on my elbow, scribbling in an exercise book.

Guess what, those children grew up! They didn’t fit in the crib any more and I had a bit more space in my life, so I joined a writing class and we formed a group. This was so important to me in those early writing years. Actually reading my work out, getting a response, knowing I’d made someone laugh or cry – they were the best feelings ever. My stories started to get longer and longer in response. Somewhere along the way I gained a Master’s degree in creative writing. I made some good friends but got distracted from writing novels, which was what I really wanted to do.

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