And We’re Done! (Again)

So after a month and a half of gruelling editing where I have totally shirked my August Camp NaNoWriMo aspirations, I have finally completed the newest, shiniest draft of Storm of Blood.

It’s going off to some loyal and totally fantastic beta readers ahead of it landing in the lap of my shiny editor in a couple of months.

I am so relieved! This year has been so difficult, what with my grandfather dying (I so cannot deal with grief narratives right now), moving to Australia, finding employment, dealing with said employment (some times I just need to relax!), and planning a wedding. I seem to be the kind of person who puts so much effort into what I do, a perfectionist attitude, that I have no energy for anything else other than what I’m working on at the time. I have no idea how other writers manage to do it. Most of the time I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above the water.

But yay! And also, these characters? Tina and Ten won’t leave me alone. They’re already harassing me for a new book. Jeez, guys! I just finished the last one! Give me some time to relax.

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Interview with Olsen Jay Nelson

Last November I did an interview with Olsen Jay Nelson’s awesome sci-fi blog about my debut novel, The Edge of Darkness, what with it being a NaNo novel and all that (National Novel Writing Month – held annually in November).

Olsen’s decided to take his blog in a new direction and as such, has given me permission to re-post the interview here. He says

“The guest blogging was quite successful in a kind of way.  Over the months following publication, some of the posts started doing quite well and gaining traffic from around the web including Stumbleupon.  In fact, Stumbleupon became a growing referrer; this led to one post, the Cyborg/dystopian interview with Lissa, leading all the posts on the blog with over 1500 page views in May.”

So here it is, the cyborg/dystopian interview originally hosted by Olsen Jay Nelson:

OJN: I’d like to introduce, Lissa Bilyk, author of ‘The Edge of Darkness,’ a futuristic, dystopian scifi novel with subjugated cyborgs who find a means to revolt. I love the sound of this, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Lissa some questions related to this and her continuing participation in NaNoWrimo since it’s November again. Thanks Lissa …

‘The Edge of Darkness’ is dystopian sci-fi, right – among other things? What’s your opinion about why dystopian realities have such appeal? Also, how did you make use of dystopian themes in the story, and what’s the effect you were looking for?

Lissa:I think that dystopians appeal to a lot of readers because they themselves feel disenfranchised with reality. In the 21st century, we should really be living in a better world than what it is. There’s still mass murder and civil war and millions of people starving while the 1% live fat and rich in first world countries. Three billion people on this planet can’t read or write. That’s almost half the population. I think that dystopian fiction help people think about the world we live in now: well, it’s not great, but it could always be worse. At least we have a degree of personal freedom and can make our own choices. In dystopian fiction, characters are limited in their choices and their lives and most end up fighting back against the system. I also think that is what appeals to people: the idea of rebelling because their lot in life just isn’t good enough.

In my book, the cyborgs on the travelling spaceship the Eden vastly outnumber the Authorities keeping them in line. If the cyborgs weren’t happy, they could rebel. So how do you keep people happy? Give them want they want: jobs, recreation time, structure. Keep them afraid of stepping out of line. The consequences for breaking the rules on the Eden are dire. The life should be simple and pleasant, and if Max hadn’t made the choices she did, she would never have discovered the life isn’t so great after all. That’s what dystopians are all about.

UtopiaBy the way, I’ve read ‘Utopia,’ the book that spawned dystopians. It’s actually a dystopian itself.

OJN: Cyborgs play an important role in the story. What’s your take on why cyborgism is such a compelling area for sci-fi? And, could you explain a bit about the type(s) of cyborgism you employed and how this fits into the reality you wanted to convey?

Lissa:I must admit, I’ve never read another book with a cyborg in it, certainly never a lead character. I was influenced a little by the film Bicentennial Man, which is based on Isaac Asimov’s book of the same name, and I was influenced a little by the Terminator films. But my cyborgs are a lot less human-looking; they are less fine and less evolved versions, clearly still half robot. In writing The Edge of Darkness, I wanted to explore what it would be like if a human really was plugged into a computer and made into a super-powered being.

But more than that, my cyborgs are a stand in for another social issue that is very dear to me: social equality. In my novel, cyborgs are viewed as semi-human with no civil rights: they can’t get married or raise babies or vote or even earn minimum wage. Despite all cyborgs being former humans and more than capable of doing such things, there is a huge prejudice against them because they are different and a threat to social norms. I am a passionate defender of marriage equality and I hope my readers make the same parallels I worked so hard to weave into the narrative.

OJN: You’ve written fantasy fiction as well. I’m just curious if you could explain how you manage writing in the different parent genres and particularly your sub-genres of these, and what influence your understanding of fantasy had on you when writing ‘The Edge of Darkness’?

Lissa:I grew up reading light sci-fi and anthropomorphic books. I didn’t get into fantasy fiction until I was a teenager. I never really thought about how the two of them are so different: I guess to me, one of them is based in the future and their magic is technology, and one of them is based in the past and their magic is sorcery. It’s all speculative fiction that uses imagination. I tried writing a novel once where everyone was a normal human and I failed tragically.

My novels are always character-driven and about the choices the characters make, and especially the consequences of what happens when they make the wrong choice for whatever reason. My characters are directly responsible for their plot: they are active engagers and never simply react to what’s going on around them. If there’s conflict, it’s more than likely they’ve been directly responsible for it through a choice they’ve made. I can’t stand these books where the characters are passive doormats simply reacting to events and taking on a victim mentality.

OJN: Finally, you wrote ‘The Edge of Darkness’ during the 2010 NaNoWriMo; you’re also participating again this year. Could you tell us a little about that process and why you find it valuable to your productivity and narrative construction? Also, are you writing scifi or fantasy this year?

Lissa:NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write a 50K word novel in a month – granted, unless it’s a middle grade novel, hardly any publishers will even think of accepting such a short book. That’s why I self-published The Edge of Darkness, because it was a complete story within itself at 52K words. This year I’m writing an urban fantasy. This urban fantasy isn’t titled yet, but it’s the first full-length novel starring the heroine of five short stories I’ve made available to readers on Smashwords, about a teenage demon hunter called Tina Storm. I find that high fantasy comes to me so easily that I like to challenge myself to write other genres in the NaNo season. Other genres I considered writing this year included chick lit, historical romance, paranormal romance, post-apocalyptic, and psychological thriller.

Because I write genres I’m not 100% comfortable with, to make sure I achieve the goal I plan ferociously: I lay the bare bones and bigger details of the novel out (this year the plan is two pages, which gives me plenty of wiggle room plot-wise), and I plot exactly where I need to be at the end of each day on a calendar that I stick on the wall behind my laptop. Then it’s a case of reaching the word count every day. I need this kind of planning otherwise I sit there wondering what happens next. Plotting the novel in a three-act structure also helps me envision the entire project.

As for why NaNoWriMo is valuable for my productivity and narrative construction: it’s completely psychological. There’s a deadline that I don’t get in the off-season. I find the idea of holding in my hands a complete book I’ve written to be an irresistible lure.

Camp NaNoWriMo Update (1)

Ugh, what is this? I’m already two weeks in and I haven’t told you ANYTHING about the new book I’m writing?

That’s because unlike Storm Front #6, this baby isn’t going to be read anytime soon.

But it’s going well. VERY well, if I do say so myself. I’m in love with my characters and my world and the plot and I’m relishing finally being able to give Jessa the freedom to tell her story, rather than keeping her bottled up and waiting in line!

Jessa is not a nice character. She’s selfish and spoiled and lazy and entitled. She also does not want the destiny thrust upon her, but she will need to accept it to ensure her own survival. She’s my favourite character that I’ve ever written.

The words are flowing so nicely that sometimes I skip a day and then write 3K the next to catch up.

BUT.

I am exhausted.

I feel like I’ve been writing non-stop forever.

I feel like this ‘hobby’ is already a second job for me. I work at it like it’s a second job. My actual job is stressing me out so much I am sometimes close to tears. Sometimes I just want to relax and then I feel bad that I haven’t made my words for the day, and who’s the only person who’s disappointed?

ME.

And I HATE disappointing myself.

A few days ago I considered quitting Camp NaNo, but I’m not normally a quitter. I’m going to keep going.

But it’s hard.

However, it is also totally awesome.

Secret Anniversary

I was too busy trying to finish Storm Front #6 and plan The King’s Phoenix and accidentally let this slide.

Around now, ten years ago, a vocal female with white hair and a foxy shapeshifting sidekick stepped into my imagination. She demanded I tell her story. I obliged and wrote positively the worst unfinished manuscript ever. I only wrote when I was inspired and when I had access to the family computer, two not very common occurrences.

I junked the manuscript when I realised the plot was worse than anything I’d ever read before.

I started a re-write about three years later. The process was extraordinarily slow, as I was now at university and spent most of my time studying and writing essays. Still, this vocal female and her shapeshifting sidekick never left my head. It was around this time I started getting encouragement to share my writing.

I never planned to. I was going to write this entire monster manuscript of about 500,000 words and get it professionally bound in leather to sit on my bookshelf and read when I took the fancy. Writing was private. Even now, I can’t stand someone watching over my shoulder as I write. It’s an invasion of privacy. It’s like someone can see into my brain and watch my thought processes.

I would often read back what I’d written for the sheer pleasure of it. I loved my characters, and I loved the story I was telling. I often thought that this was the only story I would ever be able to tell, and once it was ‘over’ I would be able to get on with ‘real life’.

I can’t imagine a world without writing. So far there’s two complete books and a half-written third one in a planned series of six.

I can’t imagine a world without these characters. They have been with me through more than a lot of people I know.

Happy anniversary, Innocence and Tagodan. I love you guys.

Storm Front #6 Excerpt

“I’m a demon hunter,” I said, relishing the sound of the words tumbling from my mouth. “I’m born in to it, much liked you’re born into witchcraft. Wanna know why I was so bad at blood magic?” I raised my left hand and let the lightning spark between my fingers. “Because I have this. A lightning vanquish. I’ve already used it on a human. You wanna come at me, bro? Bring your blood. I’ll fry you to high heaven.”

Ladies and gentlefolk, Storm Front #6 is almost finished. Remember to vote here on the poll to help me select a name for the novel. We’ve got a clear winner so far: is it the title you think fits best?

I’ve also got a fabulous editor lined up for October, which should give me enough time to edit her up and get feedback from beta readers. It will be awesome working with an editor! The Edge of Darkness didn’t actually have one, you know. Some people are precious about their writing, but I actually love mine to be hacked to pieces. I couldn’t afford an editor when I lived in England because we could barely afford to feed ourselves. But now that I’m back in Australia with a job (which, incidentally, I LOVE), I can afford to invest a little more into my books.