June 7, 2012

Second book syndrome

Filed under: Advice for writers,articles,ask an author,bloggery,growing up,how I write,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 6:50 pm

Lee Weatherly asked how second book syndrome affected me:
“By ‘second book syndrome’ I’m talking about the difficulties that come with writing your first commissioned title – usually with your first book, you write it on your own time, there’s no real pressure, etc – then with the second book, suddenly you have a deadline and a publisher’s expectations. What was once just your passion is now your job, with all the stress that can entail; how do you make the shift? Also, if your first book does very well or sells for a lot of money, that can (perversely) just make the second book far harder to write.”

Rhiannon Lassiter replies:
Hex: Shadows coverWhen I was 19 I was offered a two book contract on the basis of one book part written and one yet to be decided. Second book syndrome kicked in while I was still at university and still very unsure of my own ideas. I suggested a second book in the same series, a sequel to my first, or rather the middle book of a possible trilogy. It wasn’t my aim was to push the company into contracting me for a third. Although I had a number of new ideas I also wanted to continue the story I’d started with the characters of my first novel. Ultimately what decided the issue was that the first novel was selling well and the publishing company seemed keen to continue with more. They published the whole trilogy, which continues to sell well to this day.

However, in retrospect, I made the wrong decision about that second book. If I hadn’t been working on my first degree at the time and struggling with balancing academia and creative writing; or if I’d been more commercially minded, or thought more towards future development – I would have decided differently.

Most professional writers come to writing as their second career. They have some experience in the job market already. They’ve had a different career path and made time for their writing on the side, squeezing their evenings and weekends until they had something they could sell and make enough money to afford to write part time or full time.

I started writing full time straight out of university. I was working on my trilogy and was feeling positive about more contracts ahead. But once my only job was to write and I’d locked myself into this particular idea I started to notice an artistic issue with what I was writing. I was having so many ideas for so many new novels and new ways to write but in this particular trilogy I needed to stay true to the style and concept of the original book.

By the time I started writing my fourth novel I felt I ought have been much more developed as a creative artist than I was. The novel I wrote then was at a complete and wild variance to my previous work. My ideas have always spanned a wide range of genres and as my writing career has developed I’ve had published books across a range about half as wide. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to sell YA and junior, fantasy, SF and contemporary fiction ideas. But I should have started earlier.

Several years later a friend of mine published her first novel and told me she’d been offered another contract and the option of writing a sequel to her first book. I advised her against it. I suggested she write something completely different in another genre to avoid boxing herself in too soon. That’s what she did, and after three more successful novels returned to the world of her first book from the position of being much more assured in her craft, with a established list of novels in different styles and a new perspective on the earlier work.

My friend and I have both achieved success in writing across genres and styles but if you don’t want to be stereotyped early, I’d recommend avoiding series fiction as your entry into professional writing. As a newly published author – as any kind of author – your mind will be seething with ideas; you need to allow yourself time to experiment with them.

Writing full time is not the best career for a new graduate with no experience of the rest of the working world. I was incredible fortunate in that I had the opportunity to do this. But I started with no experience in managing my finances and planning my workload. The way that writers are paid advances (on signature, delivery and publication) and royalties (twice a year after advances have earned out) means that financial forward planning is virtually impossible because it all depends on the market. Don’t take for granted sales figures that make it possible to work full time as a writer; the period in which your book is on sale in bookshops, being reviewed and noticed and marketed is fleeting.

Ultimately second book syndrome leads to third book syndrome and fourth book syndrome and so on. I know authors who have published hundreds of books; but managing publishers expectations and your own expectations of your work never ends. The lessons that you learn are to give yourself space and to be kind to yourself about your workload and rigorous when it comes to your art. Every writer has to learn that individually but I’d recommend gaining self knowledge of what kind of writer you are by stretching the boundaries of possibility as soon as you can. Whether it’s your work space (and I redesigned mine on a yearly basis until about three years ago) or the time you set aside or your style, or genre or whatever makes you individual, expand to your boundaries, learn them and break them.

The second novel is too soon for you to decide your identity.

September 15, 2011

Q&A Friday

Filed under: bloggery,Q&A,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:50 pm

Rhiannon answers your questions here on her blog.

What have you been reading recently?
Rhiannon: More Steph Swainston: The Modern World and Above the Snowline.

What have you been writing recently?
Rhiannon: Nothing significant but thoughts are percolating.

What else have you been doing?
Rhiannon: I attended an inspirational and thought-provoking conference: Women + Leadership, hosted by Oxford Brookes University. I’ve also been revising my school visits and preparing a new set of creative writing workshops.

What would you like to ask your readers today?
Rhiannon: What would you like a writer’s workshop to include?

September 2, 2011

Q&A Friday

Filed under: bloggery,how I write,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:21 pm

Rhiannon answers your questions here on her blog.

What have you been reading recently?
Rhiannon replies: I’ve just finished two novels by Steph Swainston: In The Year of Our War and No Present Like Time. They’re urban fantasy – a sort of cross between Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw and Steven Brust’s Taltos series. I acquired them at a friendly bookswap and liked them so much I’ve just ordered the next two from Amazon. I’ve also read a detective story Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer, a YA novel The Devil you Know by Leonie Norrington (which I’ll be reviewing for Armadillo) and Seaworld, real world fiction by Ursula Le Guin.

What have you been writing recently?
Rhiannon replies: I’m still working on SPIN, but haven’t written words because I was in a field without computers over the August bank holiday.

Why were you in a field?
Rhiannon replies: I was at the Reading Festival – listening to bands and dodging rain showers.

Thomas asks: What inspires you?
Rhiannon replies: Unusual situations. They inspire me to come up with stories about them. Children in unusual situations are an example of this. Celebrity children, gifted children, independent children. But I’m inspired by everywhere I go and whatever I do. Recently at the Reading Festival I wondered if I wanted to write a novel about a music festival in space and sketched out the first chapter in my head.

Sarah asks: How do you get into the right frame of mind for what you’re writing?
Rhiannon replies: Reading books in the right sort of area helps… as long as they are not too close to my own ideas. Listening to music is sometimes helpful. The weather is also surprisingly relevant. I find it difficult to write about frozen winters on a hot sunny day and vice versa.

Sarah asks: Which is harder: plot or characterisation?
Rhiannon replies: I don’t find either more difficult than the other. There are different challenges. Plots come quickly for me because my head is stuffed with ideas. Characterisation sometimes comes more slowly as I get to know a character. But later on in the book I have to do a lot of work on making a plot work out the way it should, while characterisation gets easier as I go on.

Sarah asks: Have you ever been tempted to write something that stars your cat?
Rhiannon replies: No. Recently I was reading Palace Without Chairs in which a (fictional) writer character says that to write about a fictional cat would feel untrue to his own real cat. For me, while I can write happily about fictional cats (Rameses in Ghost of a Chance for example) I wouldn’t want to write about my own cat.

Thomas asks: What age did you start writing? And what was your first ever story?
Rhiannon replies: I started writing at 7. My story began like this “The night the old priestess died the soldjers souljers soljars solljeers solders ….” until I gave up in frustration.

November 17, 2009

Second Polish interview

Filed under: Bad Blood,interview,Poland,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:22 pm

Here’s a link to the interview I did with Polish website Carpe Noctem. There’s also to be a competition to win some of my books in Polish coming up soon.

And here’s the text for English readers:

Even though “Bad Blood” is your latest book, it was the first one that has been published in Poland. Can you say something about your other works? Which one would you recommend for someone who liked “Bad Blood”?

I write in a wide range of genres. My first books were science fiction but since then I’ve written fantasy, horror and contemporary fiction novels. Readers who liked Bad Blood might also enjoy Waking Dream, a tale of three cousins who enter a landscape of dreams, or my series that starts with Borderland, about a group of teenagers who travel between worlds.

In 2011 my next horror novel will be published in the UK and perhaps in Poland as well. It is called Ghost of a Chance and is a ghost story and detective story set in an English country house.

Why did you decide to write literature for children and young adults?

I fell into writing almost accidentally. I was writing stories for years before I realised I was a writer.  I wrote the kind of books I wanted to read and fortunately for me there were publishers who liked them as well. It wasn’t until I’d written several books that I started to write more deliberately for young adults. I still write for the kind of reader I was as a teenager and the kind of reader I am now. I like stories about change and becoming and identity: all themes that are very appropriate for teenagers.

What was it like to send a sample of your first book, “Hex”, to your mother’s agent as a seventeen years old girl and later get it accepted for publishing? How did you feel while waiting for the feedback? Were you confident or rather nervous and hopeless?

I was sending material to my mother’s agent for advice about whether to try submitting professionally, so I was hopeful that she’d find something to like. I don’t know what I expected but it came as a HUGE surprise when she offered to represent me. Then, later, Douglas Hill suggested I send my book to his editor Marion Lloyd. She was the first editor it was sent to so I wasn’t expecting much – most books have to be submitted to lots of publishers. It was wonderful when Macmillan took the book and gave me a contract for a second book as well. I had just started at university so I was very young to get a first contract straight away like that.

Did your mother encourage you to write and was she helpful? Did she give you any advice on writing?

My mother has always been very helpful and supportive. We talk to each other about our ideas and discuss tricky bits of narrative. She also gives me advice about the industry and we discuss what ideas are popular and what might be new and exciting.

Why did you decide to turn to darker fiction and write “Bad Blood”?

I like to move forward in my writing and experiment with new ideas and new styles. Bad Blood was a challenge for me. I wanted to see if I could write something frightening and bring a darker atmosphere into my work.

Is there anything particular that inspired you to write “Bad Blood”?

I went to stay in a house in the Lake District in England and was inspired by the architecture and ambiance of the house as well as by the surrounding scenery. I was staying with my family which might have inspired my use of a family as the central characters in the book.

I was really impressed by the way you used the abandoned house and eerie dolls to create dark atmosphere in “Bad Blood”. Have you ever thought about writing a full-blooded horror for adults?

I would like to write an adult novel, which might have horror elements, but I haven’t had quite the right idea yet. I have lots of notes and some text fragments for an adult novel but right now I’m having too many young adult novel ideas to work on!

Who are your favourite writers and did their works have influence on your writing?

I have definitely been inspired by Diana Wynne Jones (A Tale of Time City, Fire and Hemlock and others) and Margaret Mahy (The Changeover and The Tricksters). Another favourite author is Ursula Le Guin.  I’ve also been influenced by Alan Garner, Annie Dalton, and John Wyndam. I read so much and enjoy so many different authors that I could list hundreds of books here, so I’d better leave it at that for now. If anyone would like to know more about my influences and the writers I admire, I sometimes recommend books on my blog which can be found on my website: www.rhannonlassiter.com


November 15, 2009

A penny for your thoughts

Filed under: links,living in the future,Q&A — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 3:54 pm

A friend linked me to the discussion that’s been going on in writerly circles about donation buttons, direct selling to your readers and whether it’s possible to make money from online publication. Here are the posts I’ve been reading:

  • Steven Brust on begging for alms
  • Bill Ward on patronage and an online audience
  • Cory Doctorow in Locus about creative commons licenses and other ways of gaining attention for your books
  • Paul Raven in a Futurismic blog post about how to make money from fiction in the internet age
  • Since plenty of bright people will be putting forward their two cents of thoughts into the discussion I’m not claiming mine are the ultimate answer. Here’s where I stand on some of the questions that have been asked.

    Steven Brust asked what people thought about him putting a donation button on his website to help him with his finances because he is “bad at money management”.

    To this I’d say he’s perfectly free to put such a button on his site just as visitors are free to ignore it. I personally wouldn’t use it to donate to him. While it’s true that the author gets a pretty pitiful percentage of the cover price, this is how conventional publishing works. Very few people make large amounts of money from their writing – most writers do not make enough to support themselves, let alone their family. I’m not saying this is how things should be – but I’d rather look at solutions that affect the whole system and donating to Brust wouldn’t be a solution to anything other than gaining him a bit more cash.

    I donate to Brust by buying every last one of his Dragaera books, regardless of quality, typically in hardback. I then later buy again in paperback and donate the hardback to charity. If he’d like to make some extra cash from me then offering me something that would appeal to me as a fan of the novels would be a better way to persuade me. But again, I personally would prefer to donate extra content to my fans – hoping to persuade them into buying more books.

    I also don’t think being bad at money management is a good enough reason for a “moderately successful novelist” to ask for money. I can understand his problem, I can share his pain (I too am Not Good at money management) but I think you shouldn’t ask dedicated fans (who have already bought the product, see below on those who haven’t) to pay something for nothing.

    Paul Raven asked “leaving aside dead-tree or digital books bought in the traditional manner, where do you pay to read fiction, if anywhere? What does it take to get you to pay, and what amount seems reasonable to you for what you’re getting – if anything?”

    The answer to this, for me, is I don’t pay for fiction except from booksellers. I gain my reading matter either from a bookshop or online seller, for free as a review copy or gift, for cheap from a second-hand shop or (occasionally, but not often) borrow them from a library. I do pay for some online services (generally the ad free version or premium version of a site I use) but I have never donated money to an author or paid an author directly for their product. It would take a lot for me to be persuaded to. If Ursula Le Guin was in some sort of extremis (in danger of being without shelter or food) then I would donate to her and if she produced a book that was only available to be be bought direct from her website, I would buy that book. But she is my favourite author.

    I think I might make more of an exception for physical book objects or book-relate objects sold at promotional events. If I went to a book fair and found an author signing copies of their books and a table of books to be bought, assuming that I liked that author’s work in the first place and the prices of the objects seemed reasonable, I might then buy a self-published book by that author. As for what constitutes a reasonable amount, I wouldn’t pay anything higher than publishing company prices (between £4,99 and £14.99) and I’d be less likely to buy something at the high end.

    Cory Doctorow asked
    a) Will people donate to support a free book? How much? Will they donate more to support an audiobook or a print edition?
    b) How much work does it take to replicate a professional publisher’s contribution to publicizing and distributing your book?
    c) How much demand is there for premium editions, and what characteristics make those premium editions more valuable?

    My replies are:

    a) If you’re donating in order to gain a copy of a book, how is that book free? I would describe this as buying a book. I personally prefer physical book objects because they are easier on the eye and I can read them in the bath.

    b) Publicity and distribution are THE main things a professional contract gets you. (Also good editing if you’re lucky enough to have an editor who you work well with, but that’s not a given.) Even when the marketing of a book is effectively zero, you’re still benefiting from the name of the publishing company, a listing in their catalogue, and the kudos of professional publication. A known name like Macmillan is worth a lot to an author, especially when compared to a smaller lesser known publisher or a self-published title. I don’t think it’s possible to replicate this sort of distribution or publicity. Self-published books have to find a different method of distribution and a different kind of marketing. Viral marketing and word-of-mouth marketing are good for this type of title but very difficult to create yourself.

    c) A premium edition would have to press a quality of specialness that I actually wanted.

    JKR’s special charity editions of her tie-in Harry Potter title were handwritten by the author. I personally don’t give a damn about having a personal handwritten edition, I like print. It pains me to think of an author I cared about wasting their time laboriously copying out their words when they could be getting on with a new book. I wouldn’t want to support them in doing this for fear it would become popular.

    When it comes to books I don’t want or need them to have lots of bells and whistles. I barely remember to read the ‘Forward by Famous Person’ sections and when I do I find them so full of lushing up and soft soap I don’t care for them. I don’t need more artwork or a free CD or a special bookmark. I just want the words.

    I wish it was easier for authors to make money from their writing. But right now I don’t see a way to achieve that.

    November 8, 2009

    Interviews with Polish websites

    Filed under: Bad Blood,interview,Poland,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:37 pm

    A couple of weeks ago I did an essay piece and an interview with Polish website Crime in the Library.
    Essay is here
    Interview is here

    I’ve since also been interviewed by another Polish website called Carpe Noctem. I’ll publish the details when I have them. It’s great that Bad Blood (Wykreślone imię in Polish) seems to be doing so well. This is the first time I’ve been published in Poland. If you’re a Polish visitor to my blog or website let me hear from you.

    Here’s the short essay and the questions I was asked, in English, for English readers who’d like to see them.

    How I wrote Bad Blood

    I was staying in the Lake District in a house that belonged to a friend of the family. It was an old house with narrow staircases leading up to attic rooms with sloping walls and everywhere, against every wall and piled up in the corner of the staircases, were books. There was also a door that led into an unexpectedly large playroom. I started thinking about story ideas with hidden rooms and long buried secrets.

    The story is about a blended family, two children from the mother’s side and two from the father’s. I was trying to think of names for them and came up with very similar names for the two girls: Catriona and Katherine. I thought I would have to change one of those names because readers might be confused and then I realised that in a real family there might be exactly the same confusion, especially if the two girls had very similar nicknames: Cat and Kat. I’d already been thinking about names in a more sinister context and this idea made the family dynamics come to life for me.


    This is a book about the power of the imagination and about the ways in which your own mind can trick you. Each of the characters has cause to doubt themselves and to doubt each other. One is afraid she might lose her mind, another is afraid of losing her place in the family. Roland, the oldest boy, is trying to find some kind of balance for himself in a tempestuous quarrelsome group of people. Romance also plays a part in my story but I wanted to show that romantic idealism can be more romantic in the imagination than when it comes to life in reality and that love and obsession are very different emotions.

    Bad Blood is a multi-layered narrative. It draws from fiction and myth and the landscape of imagination but also from a contemporary situation, modern experiences and real emotions. It’s about make-believe games but also about the beliefs we make true.

    It took about two years for me to write and it wasn’t an easy book for me. There was so much I wanted to put into it and so many ways to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I think that it’s the book that’s come the closest to my ambition for it, to expressing the story I wanted to tell. It has some of the magical realism of my fantasy novels but is rooted in a real place like my contemporary fiction. Ultimately I was very pleased with how it turned out and with the critical reception it has received.


    Questions and answers

    Your mother is a writer. Did she make you write too?

    Both my parents read to me and talked about books for as long as I can remember. Having a mother who is a writer certainly made me aware of the life of a professional writer but it wasn’t just because my mother is a writer that made me a writer too. I have two sisters and one is an architect and the other works in the theatre and although we’re all interested in books we’re not all writers.

    You were very young when your first novel “Hex” was published. When did you decide to become a writer? And why?

    I was just starting at university when Hex was accepted for publication. At that time I wasn’t planning to be a writer. I wrote because I enjoyed it and I submitted the book for publication because I thought it might be good enough to get published. I didn’t actually decide to be a writer until I’d been writing for over a decade – by then I couldn’t deny that I was a writer.

    You live and work in Oxford. Is this town a good place for writers?

    Oxford is a wonderful place to live. It’s a small city so I’m near to the countryside and it has a strong cultural, political and social life. I have friends here and my current publishing company, Oxford University Press, has offices here. There are lots of active writing and writers groups, schools and libraries to visit and two universities.

    But I think that any place is good for writers. I have been inspired by all sorts of places. Bad Blood is set in the Lake District and the book is full of imagery inspired by the place I stayed and places I visited there.

    You’re the author of many books (9 novels?). But we know only “Bad Blood”. Could you tell us shortly about your novels and short stories, please.

    My first books were the Hex trilogy, that’s a science-fiction series about humans with a mutant ability to interface with computers. It’s a very action-based trilogy with gun fights, kidnappings, political protests and dramatic chases and escapes. In these books the hero is a young girl called Raven who is isolated from other people because of her abilities and her personality which makes her reluctant to trust anyone.

    Since those books, I’ve written several different kinds of novels. My Rights of Passage series (Borderland, Outland and Shadowland) is a blend of science-fiction and fantasy about a group of teenagers who find a way to travel to other worlds. It’s in some ways a response to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series because my characters are much less honourable and self-sacrificing. Many of them see other worlds as opportunities to be exploited.

    I’ve also written a magical realism novel called Waking Dream about three cousins who enter the landscape of dreams and are called on a mysterious quest which, like much of what happens in dreams, isn’t quite what it seems.

    I’ve written one very contemporary fiction novel called Roundabout, set in a Traveller community which is threatened by the local government’s plans to build a roundabout where they live.

    I’ve also written two shorter novels for younger readers (Super Zeroes and Super Zeroes on Planet X) about the children of a team of superheroes – and super villains. In these books the children are the real secret heroes, solving problems behind the back of their more glamorous parents.

    I’ve had three short stories published in anthologies, the third anthology was Lines in the Sand: New Writing on War and Peace, a collection I co-edited with my mother Mary Hoffman. I’ve also written a non-fiction book about the supernatural.

    Why do you write books for young readers? Is it more difficult to write for them than for adults?

    I write the books I want to write. They’re mostly sold as young adult titles because that’s the age of the characters but I write for anyone who enjoys reading. Adults also read my books and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed them. I remember what it was like to be a teenager and I don’t think I’ve changed all that much so it’s not too difficult for me to imagine stories from the point of view of a child or teenager and to think about what might appeal to a reader that age.

    I’ve not yet written a novel aimed primarily at adult readers or with completely adult characters. I’m sure I will someday, but I have to find the right story first. I don’t want to write just another book – I want to find something new to write about.

    You are a professional writer now. Could you describe how is your workday looking like? Do you work every day? How long? Etc.

    I currently have another job as well as writing and that’s changed the shape of my working day. But there are certain days I set aside to write. I have my own study room which I designed myself and that’s where I’m sitting now and answering these questions.

    When I’m writing there are no strict rules. I might write for a couple of hours or all day and into the night. When I’m inspired with an idea it’s hard to stop writing but sometimes I don’t feel as inspired and then I might stare at a blank page of my notebook or at an empty screen for a long time, trying to find the right words.

    As a writer do you have any habits/rituals? (e.g. a glass of wine for the end of work?)

    I have some little rituals. One is that I always start a new novel in a different font – one that feels right for the kind of book. So sci-fi novels have sans serif fonts and fantasy ones have serif fonts. I know that sounds a little strange.

    I enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a working day! I also like to phone my friends or my mother and discuss ideas with them.

    What’s the quality most important to your success as a writer?

    I think that what has made my books successful is that I try very hard to write characters who behave like real people, who talk to their friends or their families in a believable way. My characters aren’t natural heroes, they have doubts and fears, When they succeed it’s as much in spire of themselves as because of the qualities they possess. I think that makes them feel more real.

    Do you like it when your readers are scared?

    If the book is supposed to be frightening then I’m pleased that readers are scared. It’s a wonderful and terrible power to be able to frighten people with a story you’ve invented. I like it when my words achieve what I intend.

    How did you get the idea for “Bad Blood”?

    It was a combination of visiting an old house in the Lake District which was full of books and the surrounding scenery of the hills and fields that started me thinking of a story. I think of story ideas all the time but this one kept growing the more I thought about it.

    What do you think are the basic ingredients of this story?

    It’s a story about families and about identity, about claiming your own name and your own vision of yourself. It’s also a story about books and about imagination and ideas that you can get carried away with, frightening thoughts and nightmares that you can’t let go of.

    Do you like the cover of “Bad Blood”?

    I do. I think it’s a very dark strong cover that makes people want to find out more about the book.

    What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre? What are your favorite books? Which authors dominate your bookshelves?

    I will read almost anything but my favorite genre is science fiction. I like writing which stretches the imagination and explores the boundaries of possibility. One of my favorite books is The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. It’s a complex story of science and politics and war told in an unusual way. I admire Le Guin very much and have lots of her books. I also enjoy Diana Wynne Jones and own almost all the books she’s written. A Tale of Time City is one of my favorites; it’s full of imagination and humor and drama all at once. I have many books by Isaac Asimov, Stephen Brust, Alan Garner, Tanith Lee, Terry Pratchett, Melanie Rawn, Neal Stephenson, Joan D. Vinge and Vernor Vinge and John Wyndam.

    I list books I own on the website Library Thing. You can see more about my favorite authors and how I’ve rated books there.

    What type of reading inspires you to write?

    I probably admire really good literary fiction (of any genre) the most. I’ve been inspired by books like The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

    What are you working on now? What’s your writers plan?

    I’m revising a book called Ghost of a Chance, a ghost story for Oxford University Press and I’m deciding what type of book to work on next. I have ideas for a book about an ecological community and for one about princesses.

    What do you do when you don’t write?

    When I’m not writing I like to read! I also play computer games: everything from The Sims to Unreal Tournament.

    Do you like to meet with readers of yours books? Does reader feedback help you?

    Of course! I love to hear from readers. People can contact me through my web page, my Facebook or on other social network sites. I like to know what people thought of my books and the particular parts they enjoyed. I find criticism helpful too when it comes from someone who has really thought about the book.

    When will you arrive to Poland? ;)

    When I’m invited! I’d love to visit Poland and perhaps if I’m lucky my publishing company will be able to organize a visit.


    July 28, 2009

    Literary Geek quiz, from Facebook

    Filed under: Q&A,quiz — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:54 pm

    1) What author do you own the most books by?
    Ursula LeGuin or Steven Brust. That’s a close call.

    2) What book do you own the most copies of?
    Peter Pan

    3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
    No. But that question got a bit meta, didn’t it?

    4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
    It won’t be secret if I tell you!
    I used to be not-so-secretly in love with Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, also with Armand from Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice and with Andry from Melanie Rawn’s DragonStar.

    5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
    The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.

    6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
    The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (probably).

    7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
    Worst? As in the one I liked the least, right? This is a terrible value judgement question. I honestly don’t think I’ve read any books in the past year I really disliked. But I didn’t like the latest John Grisham. I think I’m burned out on Grisham. I’m giving all my Grishams to Oxfam. Oh, and I hated We Need To Talk About Kevein by Lionel Shriver but I read that last year.

    8 ) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
    Not counting re-reads or the Arthur C. Clarke award list it’s probably Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Alternatively The Female Man by Joanna Russ. Both very different books.

    9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
    Bad Blood by Rhiannon Lassiter. Oh, you mean by someone else? Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

    10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
    I don’t know who’s in the running.

    11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
    Tanglewreak by Jeanette Winterson.

    12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
    The Left Hand of Darkness by LeGuin. It would be butchered by any studio that took it on.

    13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
    I was Morgan in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I was at the court of King Arthur engaged in a political power battle with Vivian who was also someone I know in real life.

    14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
    I’m not wild about how this question is loaded. I will read anything from the back of a cereal packet to Shakespeare. I have read Jackie Collins novels and Freya North – are those low brow enough for this question?

    15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
    Difficult? Anathem was very long. The longest single volume book I’ve read, I think. But Incandesence was very short and involved some really complicated concepts. How about The Sparrow. That was very painful to read. If this question is looking for something high-brow(TM) how about Ulysses by James Joyce?

    16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
    According to my father, A Winter’s Tale.

    17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
    French poets, Russian authors.

    18) Roth or Updike?

    19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

    20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
    Shakespeare, but I’d rather pick Webster.

    21) Austen or Eliot?
    Eliot – although I do enjoy Austen.

    22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
    Not enough world literature, all very Euro-centric.

    23) What is your favorite novel?
    The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.

    24) Play?
    The Applecart -  George Bernard Shaw.

    25) Poem?
    Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love – Auden

    26) Essay?
    Macbeth and the Metaphysic of Evil – G. Wilson Knight

    27) Short story?
    The Nine Billion Names of God – Arthur C. Clarke

    28) Work of non-fiction?
    Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being – Ted Hughes

    29) Who is your favorite writer?
    Ursule Le Guin. Big surprise, right?

    30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
    There are some really negative questions in this quiz but this one is particularly hard to judge. Rated by whom? Overrated how? Probably JKR or Shakespeare because of the sheer weight of people who believe that theirs is the best writing ever. But that’s an answer by the numbers. It’s hard to think of an honest answer that isn’t prejudiced or offensive.

    31) What is your desert island book?
    Something very long with lots of ideas to think about. I’m prepared to take nominations. The Complete Works of Shakespeare until I think of something better.

    32) And … what are you reading right now?
    Just finished Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. About to read a non-fiction book abut an EcoHouse.

    February 28, 2009

    Where do you get your ideas from?

    Filed under: Advice for writers,Q&A,Rhiannon's books — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:51 pm

    The question “where do you get your ideas from?” is one writers dread. It’s a very popular first question at school visits and talks, and probably a natural one but it’s still extremely difficult to answer.

    Just googling for where do you get your ideas from? produces pages of authors agonising over this question. Neil Gaiman’s answer is the first hit.

    It’s difficult for the people who ask this question to understand why it casts us creative types into such convulsions as we strive to articulate an answer. I think the problem lies in the fact that the instant answer that flashes through my mind is “wheredon’t I get my ideas from?”

    In fact it reminds me a little of when I was eleven years old and being asked by classmates “what’s it like to have a mother whose an author?” Again, the answer is: “well, what’s it like not to?” There’s no basis for comparison.

    Having ideas for stories is one of the things that makes me a writer. I have them all the time. Sometimes it would be a mercy to have less of them since I have bulging files (actual and theoretical) of ideas I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything with yet. My head is stuffed with fragments of stories and snapshots of scenes, sometimes just names, words, a single sentence of dialogue.

    Terry Pratchett has written about inspiration particles sleeting through the cosmos. Someone else (and if you know who, please tell me) described writers as dragging around an ideas net and everything that happens to us gets stuffed into the net.

    One part of this question that some people focus on is whether writers get our ideas from real life: real people and real events. For me the answer to this is “much less than you might expect”. Real people and real situations can inspire me with ideas or empower the reality of my fiction but I don’t stuff my friends (or enemies) into my books. My characters are also much more me than they are anyone else. Raven was an ego ideal for me when I first wrote her. The three cousins in ‘Waking Dream’ and the five teenagers in ‘Bad Blood’ all have aspects of me in them. And ‘Bad Blood’ of course, has its origins in a real house and the real scenery of the Lake District. But if you’re worried about writers being a sort of vulture, greedying up bits of other people’s lives and using them in our fiction – that’s not the way I work. Perhaps because my literary origins are in fantasy, I hoestly don’t find real life interesting enough to write about – not without considerable embellishment.

    For aspiring authors wanting to find ideas, the best advice I can give is that everything has the capacity to inspire. The more I learn and read and think the more ideas I have; too many to ever write them all down.

    One vision I have of heaven is a place where every book that has ever been thought of exists and could be read. Not just my ideas, although there are some I’ve had that I’ve love to read the book since I don’t know how to write it… yet. But more importantly the unwritten ideas of the authors I’ve loved. Books they might have written but died before they could, or books they thought of writing but didn’t. I know from talking to my mother, Mary Hoffman, about ideas that she has the same problem of far too many than she can use.

    One word of warning though. Once you open yourself to ideas for stories they come so thick and fast that you may end up forgetting some of them. I try to jot the best ones down even if I don’t have time to do more than summarise them. In my ‘ideas file’ I have synopses and first chapters of about twenty books right now and i have even more snippets tucked away in notebooks. One of the reasons writers will tend to carry a pen and paper is to keep track of the ideas. Sudden inspirations, like butterflies, flutter past all the time and need to be caught in the net or pinned to a page. Unlike butterflies, pinnning them down doesn’t hurt ideas and the more you think about them and play with them the more they flourish.

    A stock of ideas, carefully saved, is a dragon’s hoard of gold. Some ideas are fairy gold and can vanish if you try to spend them. Others cluster together and can be scooped up in a shining goblet of rainbow gems. Some that seemed glittery turn out to be fool’s gold – or lead. But the shiny metaphor is leading me off into other questions for other days like “how do you use your ideas?” and “how can you tell which ones are the good ones?”

    February 27, 2009

    What kind of book would you be? and other questions

    Filed under: Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 12:32 pm

    I have more questions about the kind of books I like, these ones come from Sarah B. If you have questions of your own please contact me!

    If you were a book, what kind of book would you be?

    I’d like to be the book that Harry talks about at the end of ‘The Tricksters’ by Margaret Mahy. I’d also happily be most books by Mahy: ‘The Changeover’ would be just fine by me, as would ‘The Haunting’.

    I am a book already: ‘Specially Sarah’ by Mary Hoffman.

    What was your favorite book when you were little?

    I liked ‘Phoebe and the Hot Water Bottles’ by Linda Dawson and Terry Furchgott.

    What book(s) can you read over and over?

    I have to read all my books over and over because I am a lightning fast reader and I can’t afford enough books to read each one once. That said, there are some books I’m more likely to read when I just want to relax with a friendly book. They include: ‘Archer’s Goon’ by Diana Wynne Jones, ‘A Deepness in the Sky’ by Vernor Vinge, ‘The Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson, the ‘Wild Magic’ quartet by Tamora Pierce, the early Draegera books by Steven Brust, and the childrens books of Noel Streatfeild and L. M. Montgomery.

    Do you buy/read books if you know nothing about the book or its author beforehand?

    Yes, I do. Cover, blurb text and author info page all come with the book so it’s not exactly knowing nothing when the book is right there. I have read some awful tosh this way, of course, but also found some brilliant fiction. Awful tosh includes the books of Gor (not suitable for younger readers) and brilliant finds include Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.

    I am currently a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke award and some of the contenders are by authors I haven’t heard of but plainly should have done judging by the standard of their writing. It’s exciting to discover how many authors there are that I haven’t explored yet.

    Have you ever bought/read a book just because you liked the cover art? If yes, do you think this is a good method for buying books?

    I belong to a Facebook group called ‘Actually, I do judge books by their covers’. I don’t think I’d buy a book on cover art *alone* without even attempting to look inside but I do have a strong response to covers.

    I get turned off by derivative covers that are plainly trying to say that one book is like another. So Josh Kirby style covers for books that are a bit like Terry Pratchett novels annoy me – and probably annoy Kirby even more! I am drawn to covers that look like antiquated books such as the relatively recent Piratica series by Tanith Lee. I don’t like books where the cover artist has clearly not read the book and the character looks nothing like my vision of them. My Emily of New Moon books are a series with photo realistic covers of a girl who looks nothing like the Emily in the books.

    I think I bought ‘Callaghan’s Crazy Crosstime Bar’ because of its cover – and was not disappointed.

    What book(s) do you find yourself always recommending to people?

    ‘A Deepness in the Sky’ and ‘The Diamond Age’ (both mentioned above). I am always shocked when any fantasy/magic fan hasn’t read ‘The Changeover’ by Margaret Mahy. Joan D. Vinge’s ‘The Snow Queen’ I’ve recced a fair few times. I have some good recs from the Clarke award reading but I’m not allowed to say what they are yet!

    February 16, 2009

    Advice for writers

    Filed under: Advice for writers,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:00 pm

    Because I am a professionally published author and also run creative writing workshops, I’ve been asked various questions about the art and craft and business of writing. I’m planning to start a new section on my blog for answering these questions, linking them under a new “advice for writers” category. I’m also going to reference and link other sites that provide answers, help and support in greater depth than I can offer.

    The answers I give will be my answers. They are not intended to be authorative but I hope you will find them useful. I’m hoping that readers will enter the discussion and perhaps other professional writers will be willing to offer their points of view. Much of my understanding of how to approach writing professionally has been gleaned from other authors and I’ll aim to cite specific points where relevant (eg the idea that ‘people who are in pain have the most impulse to change things’ comes from Orson Scott Card’s book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990)). If I miss a credit, please let me know.

    My answers to specific questions occasionally change over time, as I gain a better understanding of how I work. When this occurs I’ll try to flag it up for further discussion.

    Questions that have either been asked by students or suggested by friends as good topics so far are listed below. Please feel free to add your own suggested questions.

    How do I get published?
    How much money do writers make?
    How often do you get paid, how do royalties and advances work?
    Do I need to have another job?
    How do you juggle writing and another job?
    Who does the artwork?
    Should I arrange my own illustrator?
    How does editing work? What do editors do?
    Do I need to have everything spelt and grammatically correct?
    What does the marketing department do?
    Who makes up the titles?
    How do I get an agent? How much should I pay them?
    When should I get an agent?
    Is it worth “vanity publishing” or “self-publishing” my work?
    What is the market like for [x] type of book?
    How can I tell if my writing is good enough to be publishable?
    How do I write a best seller?
    What should I write about?
    Should I “write what I know”?
    Can I write about people I know?
    Can I publish my fanfiction?
    How long does a novel have to be?
    Do books have to have a moral?
    Should fiction be educational?
    Have all the good ideas been taken?
    What makes a book junior, teenage or adult fiction?
    How does age-ranging work?
    How do I get decent critiques of my work?
    How can I get a professional to read my work? Do I have to pay them?
    How should I start a story?
    How should I end a story?
    What about the middle bits?
    How do you approach an empty page?
    How do you make sure that Fear doesn’t get in the way?
    How do you deal with self-doubt or “writers’ blocks?
    Where do you get your ideas from?
    If I dream about a story does that mean I should write about it?
    How much should I write, how often should I write?

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