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Saturday, September 05 2015 @ 03:40 PM EST
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Writing Toolbox Guest Post - Alan Baxter

Writing Toolbox Intro: Last week, my Writing Toolbox - 5 Useful Tools for Writers post gained a bit of interest on social media from fellow writers. Discussions were started, and it was soon obvious how different everyone's writing methods were. So, I've invited a number of other authors to come along and show us what is in their Writing Toolbox, and tell us a little about how they approach the more 'mechanical' aspects of story writing. First up, dark-fiction authdog-lover and Kung Fu master, Alan Baxter opens up his toolbox for all to see...

 

Andrew asked me if I’d be interested in a guest post on my personal writer’s toolbox. I thought it was a pretty fascinating idea, so I was happy to get involved. I like to keep my toolbox very simple. I’ve tried a variety of more complicated things, but never got on with them. For example, I tried Scrivener and hated it with a passion.

 

Really, my toolbox contains two things:

 

MS Word

Dropbox

 

It’s fair to add one other thing to that:

 

The Internet

 

I use the net for research, obviously, as well as keeping abreast of current markets and all that stuff. But for the actual writing, I have my laptop and MS-Word, and that’s it. Everything is saved in Dropbox, which means it saves locally on my hard drive, but is also instantly uploaded to the cloud as well. And, because I’m really paranoid about losing work, I also email new manuscripts to myself and backup regularly to an external hard drive. Even so, one EMP and I’m fucked. I keep meaning to get books printed of all my stories, just for my own hard copies, to be old school safe. I did it once and have a hardback book from Lulu with everything in it up to about 2012 or so. One day I’ll get around to doing that again and get all my recent stuff saved too. Maybe I should do a book for each year of publication or something… But I digress.

 

So my toolbox is really just MS-Word. Not only the main manuscript, but all my notes and timelines are separate Word docs in the same file. I do quite often use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of novel timelines, especially as there tend to be two or three main story threads in novel length work, so I have a column for each.

 

I’ve also sometimes used my iPad and the Docs To Go app for writing on the run when I’m away from home on holidays or at conventions and so on, and I have that synced with Dropbox too.

 

Everything else is peripheral. I often use the notepad app and the voice memo app on my phone when I’m out and about or sitting on the couch ruminating. I’ll also send myself an email with ideas written down that way. But then I transcribe all those into Word docs saved to Dropbox as soon as I’m back at my desk. Similarly, I do a lot of mind-noodling with an old-fashioned notepad and pen, then transcribe that ASAP too.

 

That’s what works for me – uncluttered simplicity. Me, a blank page and my fevered brainmeats. Then I let it all ooze out.

 

--

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. He’s the award-winning author of six novels and over sixty short stories and novellas. So far. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

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Writing Toolbox - 5 Useful Tools for Writers

Seems that over the years I've settled on a suite of 5 essential writing/research tools that work for me. Apart from internet access for searches, they appear to be all I need. Every other program I've tried has fallen by the wayside, but these are the ones that remain, the ones I find essential to crafting any of my written work.

  1. LibreOffice Writer - my main writing tool. Been using it since it was StarOffice, then OpenOffice, but the new LibreOffice v5 is the best yet and I'm yet to find a single compatibility issue between this version and MSOffice. [https://www.libreoffice.org/]
     
  2. Evernote - the perfect research/web-clipping tool. A different notebook for each story or story idea; nested notebooks inside for plot, characters, and just about anything else I choose to chuck in the mind-mill. The browser plug-in, which allows you to clip web-pages and articles directly into your notes, makes research gathering a breeze. And smartphone connectivity (android/iphone) and cloud based saving allows me to gather research anywhere (notes, photos) and have them saved straight to Evernote, ready for when I get home to my PC to start writing. [https://evernote.com/]
     
  3. Dropbox - I have a Writing folder on Dropbox and everything gets saved there. As well as maintaining synchronised local copies, Dropbox ensures I'll always have back-ups and access from anywhere. In-browser editing modes and version control make it indispensable for me. [https://www.dropbox.com/]
     
  4. Xmind - a great open source mind-mapping tool for brainstorming and plotting, Very flexible in how it can be used, and it also can export straight to both Evernote and Dropbox. [https://www.xmind.net/]
     
  5. GRAMPS - a free genealogy application for creating family trees. I find it really useful for keeping track of characters, especially when dealing with 'Families' and lineage. [https://gramps-project.org/]

So, that's inside my Writing Toolbox. What tools or apps are your favourites?

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NEWS: Year's Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2014

"Daddy keeps Momma chained up in the barn out back. Far enough away that visitors wont hear her moanin and screamin. Close enough so we can check on her a coupla times a day." - from A Prayer for Lazarus

 

Ticonderoga Publications have announced the final line-up and cover for the 5th edition of The Year's Best Australian Fantasy & Horror.

 

I am especially pleased that editors Talie Helene and Liz Grzyb have chosen my story "A Prayer for Lazarus" (originally printed in my short story collection Last Year, When We Were Young) for inclusion alongside so many fantastic authors from Australia and New Zealand.

 

"A Prayer for Lazarus" is a previously unpublished tale, written especially for the collection. I'm immensely proud of it, as an author, because it is so grammatically experimental. If ever there was a story that not only breaks the rules, but downright ignores they exist at all, this is the one. It is also one of only two stories I've written that didn't have to go through the usual editorial acceptance route. It was never sent out and rejected, and as such I feel it is untried. To have it accepted for the YBAF&H, is a great feeling for me... like the experiment, the risk of writing such an unusual tale, was all worth the effort.

 

Here is the anthology's full list of stories and authors: 

  • Alan Baxter, “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” [Suspended in Dusk]
  • James Bradley, “The Changeling” [Fearsome Magics]
  • Imogen Cassidy, “Soul Partner” [Aurealis 74]
  • David Conyers & David Kernot, “The Bullet & The Flesh” [World War Cthulhu]
  • Terry Dowling, “The Corpse Rose” [Nightmare Carnival]
  • Thoraiya Dyer, “The Oud” [Long Hidden Anthology]
  • Jason Franks, “Metempsychosis” [SQ Mag]
  • Michelle Goldsmith, “Of Gold and Dust” [Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 60]
  • Michael Grey, “1884” [Cthulhu Lives: An Eldrich Tribute to H.P.Lovecraft]
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement” [Kisses by Clockwork]
  • Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter, “Vox” [The Female Factory]
  • Gerry Huntman, “Of The Colour Tumeric, Climbing on Fingertips” [Night Terrors III]
  • Rick Kennett, “Dolls for Another Day” [The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows: Vol 2]
  • Charlotte Kieft, “Chiaroscuro” [Disquiet]
  • SG Larner, “Kneaded” [Phantazein]
  • Claire McKenna, “Yard” [Use Only As Directed]
  • Andrew J. McKiernan, “A Prayer for Lazarus” [Last Year, When We Were Young]
  • Faith Mudge, “Signature” [Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fi]
  • Jason Nahrung, “The Preservation Society” [Dimension6]
  • Emma Osbourne, “The Box Wife” [Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre & Twisted #9]
  • Angela Rega, “Shedding Skin” [Crossed Genres]
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, “The Love Letters of Swans” [Phantazein]
  • Angela Slatter, “The Badger Bride” [Strange Tales IV]
  • Cat Sparks, “New Chronicles of Andras Thorn” [Dimension6 Annual Collection 2014]
  • Anna Tambour, “The Walking-stick Forest” [Tor.com]
  • Kyla Ward, “Necromancy” [Spectral Realms #1]
  • Kaaron Warren, “Bridge of Sighs” [Fearful Symmetries: An Anthology of Horror]
  • Janeen Webb, “Lady of the Swamp” [Death at the Blue Elephant]

In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2014 and a list of highly recommended stories.

Here's where you can pre-order a copy before its October release: http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/index.php/years-best-australian-fantasy-and-horror/volume-5-2014/387-year-s-best-for-2014-contents-announced

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NEWS: Australian Shadows Win

So, I wrote this long blog post about how the AHWA 2014 Australian Shadows Award winners were announced over the weeked. I mentioned how my short story collection, "Last Year, When We Were Young", won the Australian Shadow for Collected Word... well, I might have more than mentioned, I might have gushed a little.

 

I wrote how we writers all like to say how awards really don't matter that much... and then I wrote how much of a lie that was, and how great it feels to have such recognition, and ultimately vindication, for all the hours and emotion that we put into our work.

 

I like to think I said these things with grace and gratitude: to the judges, and all the readers, beta-readers, editors and publishers who have picked up my work at some stage over the past eight years.

 

But, I guess I'll never know, because this website chewed up my post and I lost it all!

 

So, to cut a long story short, and because I can in no way try and reproduce what I wrote the first time... man, am I happy or what? Yes, I most certainly am.

 

It really is an honour to have my collection selected in such a way. I'm grateful and humbled and it inspires me to work harder at the one thing I love doing... which is writing: a thing that, eight years ago when my first story was written and published, I never imagined I'd would lead to a collection, let alone an award.

 

So, thank you to the judges, congratulations to all the other winners. It really is an honour to have won.

Here are the judges' comments:

 

"Our judges chose not to create a shortlist this year because in their eyes there was one clear winner. And that winner is.... Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan - A Masterful collection of supernatural horror and dark fantasy. The horror tales are disturbingly close to home, with vivid characters and a distinctly Australian tone. The atmospheric tales of fantasy take you to terrible other worlds."

 

And, a full list of the winners...

 

COLLECTED WORKS:

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan

 

EDITED WORKS:

SQ Mag #14 edited by Sophie Yorkston

 

SHORT FICTION:

Shadows of the Lonely Dead by Alan Baxter


NOVEL:

Wolf Creek Origins by Aaron Sterns and Greg McLean

 

PAUL HAINES AWARD FOR LONG FICTION:

Dreams of Destruction by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

 

LAST YEAR, WHEN WE WERE YOUNG

 

 

(Australian Horror Writers Association: Australian Shadows Awards website)

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NEWS: Guest Blog Posts

A quick catch-up on a bunch of guest blog posts I've been part of over the past few months...

FIfty Shades of Lit. - Over on Alan Baxter's Warrior Scribe blog, I get down and dirty with the Genre vs Literary debate. (http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/fifty-shades-lit-guest-post-andrew-mckiernan/)

 

Angela Slatter interviewed me over on her blog (http://www.angelaslatter.com/last-year-when-we-were-young-andrew-mckiernan/).

 

I contributed to David McDonald's Paying for Our Passion series -- guest blog posts from a variety of authors, on how they pay and what they sacrifice for their creative passions. All of the posts are worth a read. (http://www.davidmcdonaldspage.com/2015/03/paying-for-our-passion-andrew-j-mckiernan/)

 

And Lee Battersby asked me about my writing fetishes, over on his Friday Fetish series of posts, wherein you'll get to meet my ever-enthusiastic writing companion The Dude... (http://battersblog.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/fetish-friday-andrew-j-mckiernan.html)

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Last Year, When We Were Young

My first collection of short stories, "Last Year, When We Were Young" has been released into the wild by Satalyte Publishing, and getting some wonderful reviews.

"McKiernan is a magician. He performs magic tricks in every story, spinning us around, making us believe one thing before showing us we were wrong all along. His stories are pure magic, staying with you like an echo long after reading." - Kaaron Warren, author of Slights & Walking the Tree

 

"Last Year When We Were Young, is proof yet again of the incredible writing talent that can be found in Australia and further still, proof that horror can have a meaningful voice that goes well beyond blood and gore." - Greg Chapman, Thirteen O'Clock

 

"A troubling collection of weird and twisted tales. Sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying; always clever, always disturbing. Highly entertaining!" - Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of CODE ZERO

 

"The sixteen tales in the collection draw inspiration from a variety of genres and styles, with the magically humorous juxtaposed against the frightfully repulsive, but each story has something in common: they are all hauntingly clever." - Alayna Cole, www.mariannedepierres.com

 

As you can imagine, I'm immensely happy with the reception so far.

 

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The Stain On the Lake - New Image

 

 

Just added to the Black & White image gallery, my illustration for The Stain On the Lake by Matthew J Morrison, for a forthcoming issue of Aurealis Magazine.

 


Click on the image for the full size view.

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Into the Storm's Domain - New Image

 

 

Just added to the colour gallery, my cover illustration for Into the Storm's Domain, the first novel in Ged Maybury's new YA Steampunk trilogy coming soon from Satalyte Publishing.

 


Click on the image for the full size view.

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NEWS: Last Year, When We Were Young

Click for larger version.
I am very pleased to publicly announce my forthcoming short-story collection, Last Year, When We Were Young, coming mid-2014 in paperback and e-book formats from Satalyte Publishing. The tentative details are below, as well as pre-order links.

The cover and table of contents might change a little over the next couple of months, but I'm really happy with where things are headed and how helpful and professional Stephen and Marieke Ormsby at Satalyte have been to me.

Also, a very big thank you to Anna Tambour for letting me use her wonderful photo on the cover. And lastly, a thank you bigger than I could actually give without bursting to Will Elliott, who took the time to read an early version of the manuscript and wrote the most amazing Introduction for me.

Here are all the details as currently know...
 
Last Year, When We Were Young
 
The debut collection from multi-award nominated author Andrew J McKiernan brings together 14 of his previously published short stories and novelettes, plus two brand new tales unique to the collection.
 
Often defying conventions of genre and style, these stories range from fantasy and steampunk to science fiction and horror, but always with an edge sharper than a razor and darker than a night on Neptune.
 
From the darkly hilarious "All the Clowns in Clowntown" to the heart-breakingly disturbing title story, the collection pulls no punches. Delving deep into what scares us most, McKiernan's tales are by turns heartfelt and gut-wrenching.
 
With an Introduction by Will Elliott, Last Year, When We Were Young is a collection of horror and dark fantasy from one of Australia's finest new authors that should not be missed.
 
Table of Contents (tentative)
  • The Memory of Water
  • All the Clowns in Clowntown
  • White Lines, White Crosses
  • Love Death
  • The Dumbshow
  • Daivadana
  • The Message
  • Calliope: A Steam Romance
  • The Final Degustation of Doctor Ernest Blenheim
  • Torch Song
  • A Prayer for Lazarus (new)
  • The Haunting that Jack Built
  • They Don’t Know That We Know What They Know
  • The Desert Song
  • The Wanderer in the Darkness
  • Last Year, When We Were Young (new)
Paperback - $29.99 AUD - Satalyte Pre-Order
E-book - $5.99 AUD - Satalyte Pre-Order
 
Biography
Andrew J McKiernan is an author and illustrator living and working on the Central Coast of New South Wales. First published in 2007, his stories have since been short-listed for multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows awards and reprinted in a number of Year's Best anthologies. He was Art Director for Aurealis magazine for 8 years and his illustrations have graced the covers and internals of a number of books and magazines. 

 

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The Writing Process blog chain

My good mate Alan Baxter tagged me for this Writing Process blog-chain. You can read his post on the subject at http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/writing-process-blog-chain/. The idea is that writers answer four questions that talk about their work and their process and then tag three other writers to do the same. Here are the questions and my answers to them, as best as I can articulate something that is often a quite often so nebulous for me...

 
1) What am I working on?
 
Spending most of my time on my crime novel, A Quiet Place, because I've sold it to Satalyte Publishing for publication in early 2015 and haven't even half finished writing it yet! 
 
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
 
That's kinda hard for me to say, because I started writing it before I'd really read much crime fiction. I've devoured a lot more over the past six months and discovered what I do and don't like. I'm not even 100% sure that it IS a crime novel. Sure, there's criminals and criminal activity, but it's not a Mystery, or a Whodunit, or a Police Procedural. But, you know right from the start the situation and I think it's more like seeing a bad situation and knowing things are just going to get worse and worse from there. Hopefully it is written in such a way, and I've made the characters engaging enough, that readers will really want to hang around until the bitter, violent end and see how things turn out.
 
Closest I've found in my recent reading -- and I'm no way saying I'm anywhere near as good as these guys (I've got a LONG way to go), but they've become favourites -- are Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, or the work of Daniel Woodrell and James Sallis, and increasingly Nic Pizzolatto... but with a more distinctive Australian setting and feel. Aussie Existentialist Noir? Bogan Noir? I don't know, but it's certain there aren't too many good guys or gals and, a lot like real-life, not everything has to happen for a reason. It's more important to me how the characters react to their situations than anything else.
 
3) Why do I write what I do?
 
First, I'll try and answer this one: Why do I write? Because I don't really have much choice. I think you'll find a lot of other writers give this response too. A lot of times, writing is hard, really hard. When you add together all the time you spend writing, all the research, all the worrying you do about a story, the fact you barely get paid a dime, all the highs and lows and the self doubt you put yourself though, it would make logical sense to just give it up... but I can't. The words and stories and characters just get stuck in my head and if I don't let them out, I'd explode! I get cranky and irritable if I don't write. My wife will look at me and say, "You haven't written for a few days, have you? Can you go and write something, because you're not much fun to be around at the moment." And she's right! I'm not really me unless I write.
 
So, why do I write what I do? Again, it's not really a choice. I didn't choose to write mainly Horror short stories (with the odd Fantasy or Science Fiction tale thrown in). I didn't choose to start writing a crime novel. Words and ideas and images just come to me and I feel compelled to follow them and see where they take me. I've never really planned to write any particular type of story, or use any particular style, or that I had to write something with a certain message or moral behind it. The only answer to why I write what I do is, because that's just how the words come out. A bit glib? Maybe, but it's the truth. I know no other answer.
 
4) How does my writing process work?
 
Chaotically. Spasmodically. Painfully. Meticulously.
 
Most times, my writing starts with a title or an opening sentence. I don't plan things out, I'm not a plotter. I just take that title or opening sentence, let it slosh around in my brain for a week or so, and eventually the next few words or a sentence will present themselves. Once I've got a paragraph or two right in my head, I'll get to a stage where I have to sit down at my desk and transfer them from brain to paper (or risk losing the lot to short-term memory loss). If I've picked the right time to start, the rest just flows on from there, revealing the story to me as I go.
 
The actual writing part takes a long time though. I know a lot of writers (most?) who just get the first draft done. Don't worry about it, they say, as long as your moving forward you can always fix it in subsequent drafts. It's the second and third draft, they say, where the real magic of bringing a story to life happens! I can't work that way. I obsess over ever paragraph and sentence and word, and sometimes I can't move on until I feel I've got things just right. It's never perfect, and beta-readers and editors always pick up on things I missed or make suggestions that improve things. But, just powering through that first draft and thinking I can fix it later? Nope, can't do it.
 
In the end, writing to achieve a finished product probably takes me the same amount of time as any other writer. The difference is, while they've reached the end of their first draft and are perfecting the story with second, third or even fourth drafts, I still haven't even reached 'The End'. By the time I do get to those terminal words, I've already done those second and third drafts. I just do them as I go.
 
I don't know if that's a good way to go about things, but it seems to work for me.
 
---
 
Next week (Monday 10th, March) you can check out the writing processes of three more authors, who've agreed to keep the blog-chain going:
 

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