Quiet Tension: An Alternative Approach to Narrative Drive

The Wall by Marlen HaushoferI recently read Marlen Haushofer stunning novel The Wall.

What struck me most about this novel is the quiet tension that existed within the pages.

Let me explain …

The Wall is about a woman (we never learn her name) whose companions leave her behind at their cabin in the woods while they go into town to run errands. They never return. The next morning the woman discovers that a transparent, solid dome has appeared overnight trapping her, the farm’s dog, cat and cow, inside it.

The novel is about 230 pages long and the woman’s story is one of basic domestic survival. She must find a way to provide shelter, food, and physical care for herself and the animals. That’s it. That’s the whole book. And. It. Is. Wonderful.

So, the reader in me started wondering, why am I so fascinated by this story about a woman, a cabin, and some animals? And the writer in me was left wondering, how is Haushofer managing to keep my attention?

Those questions are connected, yet slightly different. One is about my experience as a consumer, and the other is an attempt to analyse that experience so that I can recreate it in my own work.

Like I said, the novel is about a woman trapped inside a dome with three animals.

In another author’s hands this novel would be about a woman escaping her imprisonment. From here, the natural progression would be for the woman’s to uncover who created the dome and why.

But for Haushofer, The Wall is not about government conspiracy. Instead, it is an attempt to answer a series of philosophic questions like, what would you be willing to do in order to survive? How would this situation change you? Who would you become if the conveniences of modern life were stripped away? How would you spend your time and what would you think about if you existed in solitude?

Now, these may not sound like page turning questions to you, and for many people they may not be, so how did Haushofer remedied this issue? Simple, by foreshadowing disaster. Not a larger than life disaster, like a tornado or earthquake, but a small-scale, personal disaster.

Interestingly, it was the question of what happened? rather than where did the dome come from, by whom and why? That keeps you turning the pages.

Cos here’s the thing, The Wall is not about an invisible dome trapping a woman on a farm. The dome is merely a device to put this character in a certain situation so that the author could explore/answer a series of specific questions.

The novel is a little bit climate change-y as all modern convinces are stripped away and the woman no longer has to worry about bills, social commitments, work, or even family dramas – and she really doesn’t have to worry about large scale issues involving economy, social norms, culture or politics.

The most gripping question at the heart of The Wall is: when everything that makes you you is taken away, who do you become?

Let’s be honest, our personality is in part formed by our family, friends, our work, culture, and society. When those things are removed and the only thing we have to worry about is food and shelter, how would our perceived identity change?

The great irony within The Wall is that when Western people become overwhelmed by life they often say, ‘I just want to disappear to a cabin in the woods.’

Here, the woman has disappeared to a cabin in the woods, but there’s nothing easy or freeing about it.

In fact, she hates to be idle.

Whenever she takes a break from her self-created chores, she thinks about all that she has lost (at least in the beginning), but as time goes on this attitude changes slightly. While she longs to rest when tending to her vegetable fields, any respite is short-lived as she feel compelled to keep moving — her survival depends on it.

As it turns out, life on the land isn’t easy either.

The novel is structured as one long uninterrupted diary entry. In this way, we get an immediate sense of the woman’s internal dialogue, observations and reflections and the conversational, non-fiction like structure helps distant us from the standard questions that come with most dystopian novels. Why is the world the way it is? Who is to blame? Who is responsible for fixing it?

I’ve been reading a lot of cli-fi as part of my research, and much of it is depressing, and while the ending of The Wall is not hopeful in the traditional sense, the elegance of the writing and the balance of warmth and despair make it feel more real than most.

If/when environmental disaster hits, I don’t have the chops to invent something to fix it (Clade by James Bradley) or to create a new religion (Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler), but I could probably find some small way to survive for a while.

And that’s what makes this novel so compelling because most of us can’t (alone) fix our current ecological problems, but we all know that we could plant a vegetable garden, cut wood, and take basic care of ourselves and others.

You don’t need to inject an asteroid hurtling towards earth in order to create meaningful tension within your work, you just need to figure out what your character needs most to survive and then take it away from them. A loved one. A job. An identity. A knife.

There’s more than one way to create gripping, refreshing, tension. Give it a try. And while you’re at it, order a copy of The Wall here.


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How to NOT Feel Guilt About Reading During the Day

Okay … in this week’s blog I am mostly speaking to myself, but maybe you can relate …?

Here’s the thing, I really, really struggle to read during the day.

Correction: I really struggle to read fiction and non-fiction books from my TBR pile during the day.

Reading for research – which in my case includes both fictional exemplars and scholarly material – is a little different but not without its own internal conflict.

I find it easier (note: I didn’t say easy) to spend a day reading journal articles, essays or books if they are for research. However, I have to constant affirm that what I am doing is research and not disguised procrastination or laziness.

Reading is a passive activity. You can make it feel more active by taking notes, jotting down ideas, dog-earring quotes and highlighting passages, but even then, it is not active the way writing is active.

From an academic stand-point: if you don’t read, you have nothing to write.

From a creative writer stand-point: if you don’t read, your writing will suck. 

Some days it feels like all I do is read. Awful existence, I know.

I read essays, articles, journals, read and revise my own writing and other people’s writing, but I rarely read fiction – even if it forms part of my research!

Because I associate reading fiction with relaxation and bedtime, I really struggle to read creative works during the day. I just feel so gosh darn guilty.

This means that I usually end up reading my ‘research fiction’ at night before bed which is an unhelpful strategy as my brain turns to mash potato after 8 p.m. making ‘intense focus’ rather difficult …

When I attempt to read during the day, I am gnawed by the sense that I should be doing something more productive like writing, editing, researching budgeting apps, or colour coordinating my wardrobe. Anything will do as long as it isn’t reading which, of course, is insane because I love reading.

As you may have guessed, I am not alone, many people feel this way.

So, I took to the interwebs and found a slew of online forums filled with people who are suffering from this same silly problem.

And yes, I am aware of the irony that I feel guilty about reading during the day but not about researching people who feel guilty about reading during the day.

In these forums, there was advice from librarians, writers, editors and even lawyers (!).

The most obvious and frankly effective ways to deal with this issue are:

  1. reframe your thoughts/beliefs about reading.
  2. creating productive exercises around reading.

Reframing Your Thoughts About Reading

Writers within these online forums changed their perception of daytime reading by reframing reading as part of their job or their creative process, however you rather word it.

In short, you must expose yourself to the art form you want to make.

You can’t write a book if you don’t read books.

The same approach was used my librarians as they have to be familiar with a wide range literature – obviously.

Creative Productive Exercises Around Reading

Some posts included creative ideas around completing exercises following a daytime reading session.

Earlier in this post I mentioned how taking notes while you’re reading can help, but this only serves to dim the guilt, not resolve it.

The exercises mentioned within these forums took things a step further, some people (who worked outside of publishing) opted to write mini-review or reflection following each reading and some editors mentioned that they switch from passive to active reading my intentionally paying attention to the use of language, story mechanics, or connections to other works. In doing so, they are able to alleviate their guilt as the insights gained through this style of reading makes them better editors.

If you are a writer, editor, librarian …

If you work with words, language or books in any capacity …

Then you have to read books.

Period.

Reading does not have to be confined to the hours of 8-10 p.m. at night.

You can read a book during the day without being perceived as lazy or indulgent.

After all, we wouldn’t judge a doctor for reading a medical journal, right?

Admittedly, I do think it’s problematic that we have to mask reading as ‘work’ in order to eliminate our sense of guilt, but hey, Band-Aid solutions have their place.

Still, I would like if we could see reading as both a part of our work and also something we do for pleasure.

I would love it if we didn’t write mini-reviews as a way to justify reading a book in the late afternoon; I would love it if we didn’t mask a midmorning reading session as ‘I’m doing this to become a better writer’, and yet, both of these things will make you a better reader and a better writer.

What I want is both. To read a book without having to frame it as work, even though it kind of is work.


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The BEST Books I Read During 2019

Technically, I should have posted this blog in December 2019 but because I took a two week break you’re getting it now! That being, this is not your typical Best of  listicle. Instead, I am listing my personal top picks for the year, so not all of the books mentioned below were published in 2019 they just happen to be some of the books I read last year.

I’ve split this post into fiction and non-fiction where each book mentioned contains a single sentence synopsis followed by a mini -review.

If you’d like to watch the video version of this blog (including which books I plan on reading in 2020) click here.

Best Fiction 2019

Stations Eleven – Emily St John Mandel

Log line: An epidemic has wiped out 98% of the population.

Stations Eleven is the Walking Dead without zombies. As described by Mandel, Stations Eleven is a love letter to the world. Mandel knew she wanted to depict the wonder and marvel of our modern society: electricity that lights and powers our home, medical care, telephones that allow us to connect with people on the other side of the planet … But how do you articulate the miraculous marvels of contemporary life?

Easy: take them away.

Most ‘epidemic’ novel unravel in the heat of crisis, yet Stations Eleven is predominately set fifteen years after the viral outbreak occurred with brief glimpses of the night of the outbreak and the days-weeks that followed. The novel is heart-breaking, terrifyingly real, quiet, dark, and elegant.

I have little time for apocalyptic narratives (odd that I am studying climate change fiction!), but Stations Eleven is a sophisticated offering in a space dominated by doom. 

The Wall – Marlen Haushofer

Log line: Woman trapped inside a glass dome with a cow, a dog and a cat.

I’m going to write a much longer blog post about this novel because I loved it so much, but I had to include it in this post too.

The above log line will no doubt make you think of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, but Haushofer penned this novel back in 1920. Despite the premise, The Wall is not about a woman (whose name we never learn) attempting to escape her imprisonment, instead, it is a story about basic survival.

Here’s the set up: The woman’s companions leave their cabin in the woods to go into town on some errands, and the woman decides to remain on the farm. When she wakes the following day — friendless — she discovers that an impenetrable dome as sealed her inside.

Thinking the wall is a weapon left over from the war, she patiently waits for assistance.

It never comes.

Instead, she must find a way to survive by taking care of herself and the three animals that live on the farm. This novel is one long journal entry containing accounts of her daily duties (farming, cooking, tending to the animals), stunning observations of animal behaviours (with a dose of anthropomorphism), and meditations on what it means to be human.  It’s beautiful, brilliant, and brutal.

Only the Animals – Ceriwen Dovey

Log line: Short story collection told through the perspective of literary animals.

Any book told through the perspective of an animals has to be a little self-aware.

Each short story in Only the Animals is told through the perspective of either a famous author’s pet or an animal from a literary text. Oh, and they’re all dead.

One of my favourite stories is about two buddies (who are muscles) that travels around  America by catching free rides on cargo ships. Dovey did a speculator job on the characterisation in this story (the muscles’ speak like 1920s gangsters) and the dialogue between the muscles’ chauvinistic, free-spirited behaviour is hilarious.

Another highlight was the tale about Leo Tolstoy’s pet turtle who goes on to live with Virginia Wolf. I give nothing away …

Dovey wrote Only the Animals as a way to articulate the violence people are capable of towards each other (during war) and how that affects the greater world (animals, ecology).

The stories are poignant and witty. Highly recommend.

The Book of Dreams – Nina George

Log line: The scape between life and death.

I loved George’s The Little Paris Bookshop when it came out a few years ago, and while her usual warmth and charm can be found here, The Book of Dreams is a shade darker with a mystical edge.

The book opens with a man jumping off a bridge to save a little girl’s life. The story then alternates between the man – who is now in a coma and trapped in the space between life and death – his son who has fallen in love with a girl who is also in a coma, and the man’s ex-girlfriend who was still listed as his in case of emergency contact.

George seamlessly blends her usual exploration of complicated family dynamics with the unanswerable question of what happens when we die?

The Book of Dreams is George’s last book in her series dedicated to grief and father-child relationship. Fittingly, it is dedicated to her own, deceased, father.

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Log line: Genetically modified animals, collapse of the human race, Snowman.

Okay, so I know Oryx and Crake has been around for a super long time, but maybe you’re like me and this one skipped the TBR list.

Well, friends, if you’re yet to read OAC, I highly recommend you add it to this year’s list.

I’ve been reading a lot of cli-fi narratives as part of my research, and frankly, few author manage to package our current ecological disasters within a gripping read.

Oryx and Crake moves between multiple time periods as Jimmy (AKA Snowman) leads us through his childhood, adolescence, the time after the collapse of the human race and the collapse itself.

Atwood, whose parents are both biologists, did extensive research to ensure that the science within the book was plausible (even if a little stretched). Alarmingly, some of the experiments mentions in the book have actually come true, such as glow in the dark rabbits.

As a writer, the elements that I admired most about this novel was Atwood’s success in drawing me into the story despite the omissions of information and the unlikeability of the characters.

Mystery = narrative drive.

Best Non-fiction for 2019

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Log line: focus = success / unfocussed = mediocre.

I have harped on and on about this book because it is awesome.

In fact, I have written two posts about this here and here.

Newport is an associate professor in computer science at Georgetown University. In Deep Work, Newport argues that right now focus is the world’s most important commodity.

Living in the age of distraction, most of us are task switching constantly which lead to mediocre results. The skill that we must develop in order to create meaningful work, to get the best jobs, and to live a happier life is to learn to focus.

What does this look like?

Carving out three-hour focus sessions a couple time a week. It is this method, coupled with productive meditation and saying no, that resulted in Newport writing eleven academic journal articles within one year and he doesn’t work weekend.

Read it.

Seriously.

Inheritance – Dani Shapiro

I’ve been a big fan of Dani Shapiro for years and while I personally can’t relate to her latest memoir, Inheritance, the book was impossible to put down.

Shapiro is petite, fine bones, pale, blonde and has blue eyes. For this reason, she’s had a difficult time convincing people that she is Jewish.

One day, her husband orders a DNA kit and on a whim, Shapiro swabs her mouth, pops it in the tube and forgets about it. The test results arrive while Shapiro is packing her bags for a writing retreat she’s scheduled to lead, what happens next changes everything.

Inheritance reads like a thriller, only it’s real.

Here, Shapiro shows a vulnerability that manages (somehow) to surpass that of her previous book, Hourglass.

As always, her writing is clear, concise, precise, and deeply moving. She is highly observant and knows how to deliver a line that cut right to the core.

Inheritance is for lovers of memoir generally and fine writing specifically.


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The New Model of Self-Publishing

“What you’re doing isn’t self-publishing,” said the journo sitting opposite me. “It’s so much more than that.” 

I took a sip of my long black and felt grateful to be living in such an exciting time. What I am doing — self-publishing my fiction, creating weekly content, YouTube video, and publishing essays — is part of the new model of self-publishing. 

The internet has made it easier than ever for a writer to turn their passion into a business. 

The old model of self-publishing looked like this: you print 1000 copies of your book through a local printer, store them in your garage and then hope to god that your local indie bookstore will agree to stock them some. 

Thanks to print on demand companies like Ingramspark, Amazon, and LuLu, we can now reach an entire world of readers AND park our cars in the garage. 

The New Model of Self-Publishing looks like this:

  • Growing an audience through the creation of regular meaningful content 
  • Contributing to the online community by sharing your knowledge with other indie writers

Building an author platform can be done in one of two ways: either you build interest around yourself as a person or you provide educational information. 

Maybe a combo of the two.

Some authors share their writing journey, sneak peeks of their WIP and create ‘day in the life’ videos. 

Others are more informative, they may create content that teaches the basics of writing craft, how to query agents, how to get published etc. 

Creating regular meaningful content helps develop your know, like and trust factors. The three keys to a successful business. 

Now, this isn’t scammy. Hopefully, you’re being genuine in your exchanges with readers and you are creating content that is interesting to you and useful for others. 

As I see it, the new model of self-publishing or indie publishing is one part writing and one part community service. 

And I for one, am happy to be a part of it. 


CHRISTMAS STORY EVERY TIME HE DIESLOVE Christmas and I LOVE writing. So, I figured I better stick these two loves together and write a super special Christmas Story for my email subscribers. This short & sweet little story is for anyone who has read Every Time He Dies but was left wanting more.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the ETHD Christmas Story, please consider joining my email newsletter. When you subscribe, you’ll also receive a downloadable copy of my cheatsheet Seven Ways To Stay Motivated As A Writer. 

Interview with Blogger Kriti Khare

I first met Kriti earlier this year when I sent her a request to review my novella When Bell Met Bowie. Our mutual love of books, writing, and appreciation for ivory towers resulted in an instant connection, so we decided to collaborate on a project!

This week’s blog post is an interview with Kriti where we cover everything from time management, writing routines, favourite books and the balancing of academic and personal goals.

Kriti started her blog armedwithabook.com back in May 2017 as a way to document her journey at university, as a learner and teacher. The aim? To take the knowledge from all the books, sources and interactions she experienced, and to bundle them together into something more meaningful and concise. Something she could come back to, and that others would benefit from.

Kriti’s blog is a combination of reflective posts about time management, writing, and productivity, plus book reviews. ‘Cos books are awesome.

Kriti is passionate for books and writing is obvious, so I know you’re gonna love this week’s interview — I sure did!

Enjoy. x

You have a background in computer science and you also maintain an active blog whose posts range from book reviews, the writing life, and other areas of interest like productivity and time management. Why did you decide to start a blog?

I have had a blog on and off for over a decade now but it was only in May 2017 when I moved to Armed with A Book and made it official. At that point, I had been accepted into a teaching degree and learned about online portfolios in one of my grad courses. I thought a website would be the best place to write on and share resources with people who needed them, whether it was my students, fellow teachers or those who share similar interests as me. I think the background in computer science gave me the confidence to customize the website at times.

How do you balance blogging and full-time work as a Data Analyst? Any tips?

Sometimes it can be hard to find a balance. I was actually reflecting about this recently in a blog post. I love working as a data analyst and try to apply many of the skills that I have learned and use there to my blogging life. For example, at work, we use a scrum approach to complete projects – we set priorities for the next two weeks and have some deliverables at the end of that time period. This is very focused work on one, at most two projects, and incorporating that same kind of planning and predictability to blogging, reading and other activities has helped me immensely.

Using one of the tools we use at work (Jira), I have built a roadmap of projects I want to pursue and then divided the tasks into two-week chunks. It’s like a Kanban board where you decide the tasks you want to complete, and move them to a ‘In progress’ or ‘Completed’ queue as the status changes. This helps plan my reading and blog posts as well as when I need to get things completed by. Sometimes, things get moved a couple of times, for example, I have been wanting to work on this Q&A for at least two sprints now, and seeing visually I have been postponing it, has helped me prioritize it. 🙂

There are numerous books out there about productivity and all sorts of planning systems. I have read and implemented many of them, but ultimately, have had to make changes to them to fit my needs and my life. When I was pursuing my education, planning for each day was easy because there were deadlines set by my courses that I needed to meet. Now, all my deadlines are self-assigned so planning in two-week chunks works better. My advice to anyone who wants to find balance between work and hobbies would be to have a planning system. Try a couple and build one that you can use.

In addition to your educational posts, you also post book reviews (a service you offer to indie and traditionally published authors), how do you manage to read and review these books while also staying on top of your professional and personal TBR list?

One of the things I learned from Deep Work by Cal Newport (Tara here: if you haven’t read this book, do yo self a favour!) was that it is very important to leave work at work. That has helped me reach my professional goals and tasks because I know the time I spend working, 35 hours a week, is all I have to dedicate to it, hence, I had better give it my best shot.

I started offering the reviewing service in July 2019 and have received an overwhelming response from publishers, agents and authors for books that I can review. I have gotten better at saying ‘no’ and choosing books that truly pique my interest, your book, When Bell met Bowie being one of them.

However, my personal TBR has suffered a lot this year since the reviewing commitments easily took over the other reading.  I am hoping that I read more of it next year, now that I know what reviewing and bookblogging entails. In any case, I love connecting with authors and talking to them. Reviewing makes them more accessible and that is why I will continue to prioritize it.

Shifting gears a bit, can you talk a bit about your writing process. Do you approach your academic writing differently to your blog content? Do you write every day or at certain times of the day or in certain places?  

Academic writing and writing for the blog are a little different but when I have written about teaching strategies and learning, my writing process has been similar to academic writing. Identifying a clear direction or question that I am trying to answer or am curious about is the first step. I note down some of the ideas I already have and then go on a search for literature to flesh out the ideas more. Sometimes I find things that I had not even envisioned I would.

My article about Boumas and how people read comes to mind. This was one of my toughest articles to write because, even though I am an avid reader, I had never really thought about the act of reading. I did not know that the shape of the words ‘boumas’ is one of the theories of how people read, and that another theory is the parallel word recognition model. Relating all this to fonts and typography is even more fascinating.

I find both academic writing and writing for my blog lead me down some unknown and new territories and that is partly the joy of research and being open to learning more.

Regarding writing routines, I have tried various iterations. I have tried setting aside a couple evenings a week for working on the blog. I have also tried keeping a whole day for it and focusing on other things the other days of the week. For now, what is working well is writing a bit every day and not having the expectation to produce/publish something at the end. Taking my time to complete things rather than rushing to meet deadlines is something I am working on.

 How has maintaining a regular blog benefited you personally or otherwise?

Having a blog has given me my space on the Internet and the opportunity to connect with people. Since starting bookblogging, I have found a topic I am passionate to write about and am able to come up with new material frequently. Every book has a different story, and even if two books were the same, that itself says something. I have started to reflect more on what I read and how it relates to my experiences. I like challenges and posting about books is a challenge. You have probably noticed this, Tara, that my book thought articles are a little different from mainstream reviews as I try to bring in more sources and themes. That’s my way of using my book to challenge my thinking, learn more and share my thoughts.

As previously mentioned, you are a blogger and a book reviewer. So, what have been some of your favourite reads so far this year? 

That’s a hard one. 🙂 I’ll try to pick a couple must-reads:

  • Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Issacson was an amazing read. It was one of the first books I read this year. I have a number of Apple devices and it was great hearing about the man who founded it.
  • I learned about First Nations traditions in Crow Winter by Karen McBribe and it was a thoughtful read about cultures and healing.
  • The Furies by Katie Lowe was a great spooky read that explored friendships.
  • When a toy dog became a wolf and the moon broke curfew by Hendrika de Vries is my favorite memoir set in the Second World War.
  • The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas was a thoughtful read about what would happen when time travelling became a profession.
  • The Braid by Laetitia Colombani is one I would reread in the future. It is a beautiful story of three women separated in place and yet united in the pursuit of their dreams and the strength they possess.

I could probably go on but I definitely recommend checking these out. I have posted about all of these on Armed with A Book and have been lucky to connect with Karen, Katie and Hendrika about their works.


Links:

Armed with A Book: https://www.armedwithabook.com/

Read my interview on Kriti’s blog here: https://www.armedwithabook.com/tara-east/

Balance: The word I chose for 2019: https://www.armedwithabook.com/balance-the-word-i-chose-for-2019/

Let’s talk about words: https://www.armedwithabook.com/lets-talk-about-words/

Crow Winter: https://www.armedwithabook.com/crow-winter/

The Furies: https://www.armedwithabook.com/the-furies/

When a toy dog became a wolf: https://www.armedwithabook.com/when-a-toy-dog-became-a-wolf-and-the-moon-broke-curfew/

The Psychology of Time Travel: https://www.armedwithabook.com/the-psychology-of-time-travel/

The Braid: https://www.armedwithabook.com/the-braid/


CHRISTMAS STORY EVERY TIME HE DIESLOVE Christmas and I LOVE writing. So, I figured I better stick these two loves together and write a super special Christmas Story for my email subscribers. This short & sweet little story is for anyone who has read Every Time He Dies but was left wanting more.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the ETHD Christmas Story, please consider joining my email newsletter. When you subscribe, you’ll also receive a downloadable copy of my cheatsheet Seven Ways To Stay Motivated As A Writer. 

 

Interview with Fantasy Author KJ Taylor

Many writers spend their lives enchanted by the epic sagas seminal to the fantasy genre, escaping into the pages of Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Westeros and Narnia, but how many of us have the patience and vision to write something of that scope?

The long-running Cymrian Saga, about to reach its climax with its ninth instalment, is one of these such narratives, with interweaving plots across generations of characters in high-stakes political and cultural warfare set in a dangerous and magical world of secrets and powerful griffins.

Today’s special guest is the acclaimed author of the Cymrian Saga, but also the Drachengott series and a number of standalone fantasy works: KJ Taylor!

First published at a young age, KJ Taylor is the author
of numerous beloved fantasy KJ Taylornovels, and her latest novel, The Cursed Guard, was released on Sunday,
December 1.

In 2011 she won the Young Distinguished Alumni of the Year from the University of Canberra and the Critic’s Award. Her novel, The Dark Griffin, was shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards in 2009. She has a Bachelor Degree in Communication and a Masters of Information Study, and she currently works as an archivist.

The Cymrian Saga, a trilogy of trilogies starting with the Fallen Moon trilogy and followed by the three Risen Sun books, has continued with this third series, the Southern Star trilogy, which follows the tale of a common guardsman living in Cymria in the supposedly settled aftermath of the first six books.

The Last Guard, published by Black Phoenix in October 2017, introduced Red, a brave and loyal Southerner determined to prove himself, but his entire world is torn apart when King Caedmon invades the South. Helped by an alliance with the Emperor of Amoran – a huge and powerful country to the East of Cymria – Caedmon conquers the South and declares himself ruler of the entire continent. Red, having joined forces with a the fearsome griffin Kraego, rallies his fellow Southerners to fight back, but the second book, The Silent Guard, sees them enslaved in the lands of the Amorani Empire. Red is forced into the role of reluctant leader, bringing together a band of insurgents and their griffins who must go into battle once more.

The Curse GuardThe Cursed Guard continues the story. Once more, battle lines are drawn between North and South, testing old loyalties. Immortal, yet dead, unable to love, or be loved, Red searches for the strength within his hollow soul to end the war, once and for all.

KJ Taylor’s real first name is Katie, but not many people know what the J stands for. She collects movie soundtracks and keeps pet rats, and isn’t quite as angst-ridden as her books might suggest. With The Cursed Guard just around the corner, Ms Taylor answered some questions about her process, her experience and her upcoming release!

  1. You have an extensive academic history and are now working as an archivist. Did your formal education assist your writing practice and does your current rule as an archivist provide you with writing inspiration/information? 

    I signed my first publishing contract while I was still in high school, and I remember arrogantly telling my mother I didn’t “need” to go to university – I thought I was set for life! She told me I should go anyway because I needed the life experience, and I decided to go along with it. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, because it exposed me to new ideas, introduced me to a lot of new people, and helped give me a work ethic. It also made it possible to get a proper day job later on when I went back for my Master’s.Archiving is an interesting job in a lot of ways because it means spending a lot of time immersed in stories, surprisingly enough. The archive I run is essentially the home of the entire history of the organisation, and that means I’ve learned an awful lot of stories – human stories, about people who worked here, or were educated here, and stories about how the place was founded and changed over the years.

    In a sense being an archivist means being a historian and sometimes a detective when someone asks me to ferret out some obscure piece of information. I love it! In fact, it was probably part of the inspiration for one of my characters (who will appear in The Cursed Guard for the first time!) who is obsessed with studying history, and particularly the really obscure parts people didn’t think to write down.

  2. What do you love about the Fantasy genre? Why do you continue to write within this genre specifically? 

    I like having the freedom to create my own setting, with its own history and cultures and so on, and I like exploring things that don’t or can’t exist in the real world and try to make them work in a way that makes sense. With that said I still like to keep my stories mostly grounded in reality – which is why the setting of this series is low magic – and have recently begun exploring other genres. I decided I needed the challenge as well. Plus it’s nice to write in the real world and not have to figure out how people do everyday stuff.

  3. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest novel and what readers can expect? 

    The Cursed Guard is, of course, the last of the Southern Star trilogy, and one of my favourite books in the entire series in large part because of the ending, which I found incredibly satisfying to write. I’ve waited a long time for people to read it because it finally resolves a lot of very important things.What can I say about it without spoiling too much?I can say that two characters who seem to be the most weak and insignificant players in all this will each make choices that will change everything. A single act of extraordinary courage will undo terrible mistakes from the past, and offer the chance for redemption to someone who seems so very far beyond it. Betrayal will be rewarded with betrayal. And our hero, Red, is probably going to endear himself to a lot of readers by telling a certain person to “kiss my arse” and then flipping them off for good measure.

     

  4. Can you share your writing routine with us? Are you a morning or night writer, paper or pen, plotter or pantser? 

    I used to write at night because I was so busy during the day that that was the only time I had, well, time for it. Of course, I was pretty young back then, and extremely hyperactive – these days I’ve slowed down. Turning thirty does that to you, it turns out. Nowadays since I don’t work full time I have three days a week set aside for writing and editing. I don’t write by hand except when I’m on holiday – anyone who has seen my appalling handwriting will understand why. My hand just can’t keep up with my brain. I don’t do plot outlines, but I have the shape of the general plot in my head before I get started and sometimes I know how it’s going to end. Sometimes not.

  5. Knowing what you now know, what advice would you give to aspiring writers regarding the writing process and the path to publication? 

    Don’t be fooled by the allure of fame. The time eventually comes in any creative’s life when they have to choose between maintaining their integrity or sacrificing their principles to get ahead, and when that time comes you have to stop and ask yourself why you started doing this in the first place. And if you do manage to win some measure of fame, be very aware that it can be taken away at any time, for reasons you have no control over. In the end, it’s better to write because it makes you happy. Become too fixated on the idea of being a glamorous bestseller, and you run the risk of both losing your integrity and turning into a very unpleasant person to be around.

  6. Final question, what does the J in K.J Taylor stand for? 

    Jill! After my maternal grandmother, who died just a few months before I was born. It’s one of my lifelong regrets that I never got to meet her because my parents say she was a lovely woman who adored books, and I think we’d have had a great relationship.


The Cursed Guard by KJ Taylor
Purchase The Cursed Guard here.


CHRISTMAS STORY EVERY TIME HE DIESLOVE Christmas and I LOVE writing. So, I figured I better stick these two loves together and write a super special Christmas Story for my email subscribers. This short & sweet little story is for anyone who has read Every Time He Dies but was left wanting more.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the ETHD Christmas Story, please consider joining my email newsletterWhen you subscribe, you’ll also receive a downloadable copy of my cheatsheet Seven Ways To Stay Motivated As A Writer. 

 

 

Book Launches: Why They Are Awesome and Why You Should Have One

It was the fourth time I’d emailed the event coordinator my purchase order. After sending her three incorrectly completed forms, she eventually realised that I was a total newbie and very bad at maths. Thankfully, she took pity on me and carefully and clearly explain what each acronym meant, what value to put beside it, and how to calculate the three different ‘totals’.

I mean … I think that’s what we did … 

?

Hosting a book launch is a fantastic way to build hype around the release of your novel, but it’s also a fun way to celebrate this huge personal and professional achievement.

Lots of people want to write a novel, but not all of them do. 

Taking a moment to pause and acknowledge yourself is important because our “busy” culture sometimes tricks us into moving onto the next thing before we’ve even stopped to celebrate the completion of a current milestone. 

Hosting a book launch is simpler than you think, minus the paperwork.

Of course, where and with whom you host your event will likely determine the quality of your experience, but a few things will remain the same.

Once you have picked a venue and settled on the date, it’s super important that you do two things:

  • Order copies of your novel in advance and deliver them to the venue ahead of time. That way, the bookseller can assist in the promoting of your event — and the book — by having the item in-house and on shelf
  • Promote, promote, promote. 

You may have guessed that promoting your event is pretty important. 

You should definitely promote your event on social media, your website and newsletter, but there are other sources you can tap into as well. 

Because your launch is location dependent, you need to target the residents of that region/town/city. 

Media sources you should consider contacting are:

  • ‘What’s on’ websites/facebook pages
  • Book clubs and writing groups within the region
  • City zines
  • City culture blogs like Urban List or Concrete Jungle
  • The Writer’s Centre for your state (many have community notice boards)
  • Local newspapers
  • Local radio
  • Local TV stations
  • Local magazine

Approaching local media is the best way to ensure that the maximum volume of potential attendees is reached. 

Hear me: You cannot depend on the bookstore to promote your event.

Yes, they will tell customers, they may send out an email to their newsletter subscribers and have a poster in the store … but it is up to you to generate interest in your book and in the event. 

Now, approaching media outlets may seem scary, but it’s actually not! So, stop listening to that small voice in your head. Feed it a sandwich, throw it a shiny ball and get on with your promotional plan. 

If you don’t know HOW to approach your local media outlets, check out the blog post here. 

In addition to spamming strangers, it is also important that you invite your family, friends, beta readers, proofreaders, editors, cover designer and everyone else who was involved in the creation of your book. 

If you’ve been working on this book for a long time — and I know you have — then these people will want to celebrate with you. 

After all, they’ve put up with you yapping on and on about this project so the least you can do is give them some cake and treat them to a live reading. 

Hosting a book launch had a dual purpose, it’s a way to celebrate the release of your novel, but it’s also a way for you as the author to say farewell to the project. 

The book is done. It’s not yours anymore. The launch signals your willingness to release it into the world so that it can go off and have new adventures with other people. 

If you’ve been thinking about hosting a launch, I encourage you to go ahead and do so. 

The event may be brief (1-2 hours), but it will be packed full of meaning. Promise.


CHRISTMAS STORY EVERY TIME HE DIES
I LOVE Christmas and I LOVE writing. So, I figured I better stick these two loves together and write a super special Christmas Story for my email subscribers. This short & sweet little story is for anyone who has read Every Time He Dies but was left wanting more.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the ETHD Christmas Story, please consider joining my email newsletter  When you subscribe, you’ll also receive a downloadable copy of my cheatsheet Seven Ways To Stay Motivated As A Writer.