Review: Lauren Beukes – “The Shining Girls”

Cole:

I read and reviewed Lauren Beukes’ “The Shining Girls” on my book review blog, but it’s stuck with me all week, so I’m reblogging here. READ THIS BOOK – it’s awesome. I’m starting “Broken Monsters” soon and will have an update about that one too. Watch this space!

Originally posted on Rautenbach Writing:

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On Monday, I was sitting outside of Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg when I closed the back cover of The Shining Girls and exhaled with the kind of satisfaction and relief only experienced when a derailed train comes to a grinding halt and all the saucer-eyed passengers realise they’re alright.

My mind was blown by the neat order of completion to which this chaotic story was brought. Hmm, that’s a terribly passive-voiced sentence, but it should adequately convey what I mean: Lauren Beukes is a writing rock star and I’m her newest front-row groupie.

At first I had my doubts – I’m one of the few people who didn’t enjoy Zoo City as much as I should (could) have, but before reading The Shining Girls, I cleared the canvas of any pre-judgements and, on a trip out of town, took The Shining Girls with me and started reading it with…

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My very own Toy Story…

Over the past weekend, the husband and I went to spend some quality time with my parents. Mom’s ready to retire and move into a smaller house, so she ordered me to tell her what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. By default, she’d be chucking out the stuff I didn’t ask her to keep.

There’s a wooden trunk in the living room that works well as a coffee table, but my heart rose up to my throat when I opened it up and discovered some old childhood friends hiding inside. The stories these guys could tell you about my little life…

How to write

That Pink Panther is 29 years old. Yes – twenty-nine years old.

The little blue elephant is easily 30 or 31 years old (Mom was pushing me in a pram through the supermarket and she only discovered the elephant in my hands when we got home), and when I picked out Snoopy Santa, I was acutely aware that perhaps I was getting too old for plush toys.

I’ve since realised that no one is ever too old for plush toys.

And Popples… do I even need to say it?

My first foray into fiction writing consisted of drawing storyboards on old printer paper, casting these characters in pencil crayons and black pen, then writing in the stories (ALL IN CAPS) in the remaining spaces on the pages.

The picture you see above represents the seat of the expression of my creativity. These inanimate things off which I bounced creative ideas and came up with adventures of conquest and betrayal, loyalty and trust, and fun and laughter, now need to be retired into others’ hands.

I had thought of strapping them all to my motorcycle in November and participating in the Toy Run, which ends with the motherload of toys being distributed to charity… but now I’m not so sure. These toys are nearing vintage status, but more than that, they’ve been so thoroughly imbued with meaning and sentimentality that I don’t feel right about parting with them.

This life is short, and no, I won’t keel over if my stuff is lost in a fire, but when that stuff connects me to the authenticity of myself as WRITER when I was 5 or 6 years old (and knew inherently why I’d been so ceremoniously deposited on this earth)… it becomes a little harder to let go.

It’s too easy get caught up in our fast-paced, modern, consumerism-crazy lifestyles – it’s too easy to throw away the things that really are meaningful to us. A part of me knows that attachment to things is silly, but another part of me knows that sometimes attachment to things is what makes us, us.

What should I do – keep the toys? Donate them? Sell them?

Reasons?

80 (Short) Facts About Being an Indie Author (The Full List!)

Cole:

Self-publishing “The Jackdaw Birdhouse”, I didn’t expect much – just wanted to test the waters and see how long the process would take and what’s required for a longer work of fiction.

This list below summarises what indie-authors can expect from the whole process… and then some. Be prepared for a rather depressing read, but understand that if it’s what you’re meant to do, you won’t let Reality get you down – you’ll do it anyway.

If you’re an indie-author, take heed, then go to the original source and follow Therin Knite!

Originally posted on Knite Writes:

Regarding Sales…

1.) Your first book will sell 5 copies in its first month. If you’re very lucky.

2.) Your first book will sell 50 copies in its first year, if you’re even luckier.

3.) Your second book will cause your first book to sell slightly better. If it’s a sequel.

4.) If your second book isn’t a sequel, both your first and second book will sell…probably nothing.

5.) You might start seeing an uptick in your overall sales numbers…once you hit book 5 or 6.

6.) More likely, you won’t see any sales increase until you get somewhere around book 10. If you ever see a sales increase at all.

7.) You will see sales when you run ads with certain popular ad sites (like Kindle Books & Tips and Ereader News Today).

8.) Unless all of those sites are Bookbub, the sales tail won’t last but a few…

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The satisfaction of commissions

I told my story here of wanting to finish up some old paint to make way for the new…

Well, here’s the last “free” commission:

Johannesburg skyline silhouette

It was fun – not something I’d do for myself, though, but it still made the recipient a happy man. When I’d added a coat of varnish and sent the painting on its way, I never expected to actually get to see where the painting went, but here it is, along with the Jimi Hendrix I did last month:

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That’s pretty cool, and it means the world to me to see how the “toil and colour” goes a long way to put brightness and meaning into someone’s personal space.

When I’m writing (and not writing), my head is filled with words, words, words all the time… When I paint, however, there’s not much of anything going on upstairs, which does bring me a bit of quiet relief. Much like music, painting is my therapy.

That said, I have a few new projects up my sleeve, and I’m taking paid commissions now that I have space for new paint :)

Lauren Beukes launches Broken Monsters in Jo’burg

I try my very best not to be one of those fangirls – you know, the ones who have celebrity shrines in their attics where they go to be with the person they’re fangirling while posting obscure sub-tweets about them. I’ll lurk on my favourite-favourites’ social media accounts to see what they’re up to and if they’re publishing, starring in, or doing anything new, but I don’t like to be intrusive.

That said, social media interaction is cool, but engaging IRL is sooo much more awesome :)

So, yeah, I met up with a girlfriend and we went to Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters book launch at the Sandton City Exclusive Books in Johannesburg. It was my favourite book launch so far – probably because it seemed so casual. Lauren was very approachable and she gave each fan her undivided attention, not only signing their books, but writing a personal message and having a chat. Humility and friendliness go a long way to building a fan base, so it’s no surprise that she’s becoming so famous.
Lauren Beukes Broken Monsters
Ben Williams (founder of Books LIVE) introduced and chatted to Lauren, guiding the inimitable author through a very entertaining and interesting exchange and really building up the audience’s collective desire to dive head-first into Broken Monsters. As much as I am champing at the bit to READ IT NOW… I am doing the responsible reader thing and finishing The Shining Girls first. (If you missed it, I enjoyed Zoo City and reviewed it here.)

After Ben had done his thing and Lauren had read an exerpt, they prompted the audience for questions. My hand went up of its own volition before I’d even properly formed the question in my head, and a microphone appeared in front of my face. I feared I may have started speaking in a foreign language, but it all came out reasonably intelligently:

Recently there’s been a lot of deer imagery in popular media, like that on TV series, Hannibal and True Detective, and now in Broken Monsters. Is there a conscious theme leaning towards [the deer as a symbol for the ominous], or was it purely coincidence?

Lauren confirmed that it was indeed coincidental, joking that TV stole her idea (*grin*). She expanded on her answer, saying that the day after Joey HiFi had finished designing the book cover for the South African edition of Broken Monsters, they discovered True Detective. I do think, however, that this is a theme worth exploring, which I may just include in my review of Broken Monsters.

When Lauren signed my copy of Broken Monsters, I was trying to hide my involuntary propensity to blush something crimson – just my usual goofy response to being in the presence of inspiration moulded into the shape of a gorgeous human being – and she wrote this fantastic inscription, which is more apt than she could possibly have realised.

(Ed: Hey Lauren, one day I’ll tell you all about it…)

Lauren Beukes Broken Monsters

WARNING: Total fangirling in 3… 2… 1…

The best thing ever, though, was that when I introduced myself (so that she knew who to inscribe to), she said that my name is awesome and that she’s going to use it. Thankfully, I didn’t throw my name away, but rather surrendered it gracefully in a gesture of Here… have my name!… use my name!…

So, for all you other Lauren Beukes fans, when you see “Cole” in one of her future books, you know where it comes from, okay?

/fangirling

Epic evening – and I wish Lauren Beukes the world of success with Broken Monsters and beyond, and all the best for the international launches of Broken Monsters.

If you don’t already (what’s wrong with you?!), follow Lauren on Twitter (@laurenbeukes), Facebook (Lauren Beukes), and bookmark her website: www.laurenbeukes.com

I published my first book – The Jackdaw Birdhouse

So, I’ve been working on this micro-horror for the last few months and it’s finally available for your pleasure.

Here, then, is The Jackdaw Birdhouse:

The Jackdaw Birdhouse by Cole Rautenbach

I feel hungover on all these I’ve-been-writing-and-now-I’ve-published author emotions: excitement, dread, anxiety, jubilation, relief, and absolute fear. It feels like I’ve taken off all my clothes and am pretending that no one’s noticed, while going on with day-to-day stuff.

Okay, so about the book:

Blurb
Should she just forgive and forget?

Lucinda’s only objective is to avenge a brutal attack she survived three years ago. On the night she finds her target, she almost suffers at his hands once again, while also experiencing a crisis of conscience. Does she regain the upper hand? Will she go through with it? And if she does, what is her weapon of choice?

The Jackdaw Birdhouse is a micro-novella that will make you question your position on vengeance.

What is a micro-novella?
In case you missed it, here’s my comprehensive list of what to call books of varying length.

Where you can find The Jackdaw Birdhouse

  • Smashwords.com: The Jackdaw Birdhouse for $1.15
  • Amazon Kindle: The Jackdaw Birdhouse for $1.15 (or, if you’re from South Africa or other non-US and non-UK or European locations, it’s the equivalent of $3.59. Horrible, I know, so rather buy from Smashwords.com)
  • Scribd! : The Jackdaw Birdhouse as part of their $8.99 per month subscription for unlimited reads.

I’ve also sent this book for listing with two local websites, but I guess I’m on their clock now. I’ll add their listings when I get confirmation.

A short extract:

He recognises the tattoo on the inside of Lucinda’s wrist. The black feather was brand new when he saw it the first time. It was a few years ago and he had clearly not expected to see it again. And now here he was – in the worst possible scenario in which to cast his gaze on that symbol. His fear turns to dismay and he becomes keenly aware of the birds’ spine-chilling silence as Lucinda gets up from the floor. She doesn’t say a thing. Doesn’t need to.

She shakes her coat from her shoulders and not only does he re-experience the terror of seeing her tattoo again, but he can’t avert his eyes from the long scar that runs parallel with her left collarbone, just beneath it.

“Recognise that?” she asks, touching the scar self-consciously, but also waiting for the memory of how she got it to bubble to the surface of his awareness. He drops to his knees, hanging desperately from the handcuff as his mouth contorts with panic. Hope abandons him. It becomes frighteningly obvious what’s about to happen and he shrugs his shoulders up tight as his skin crawls with horror.

There’s another short quote at my other blog, here (Rautenbach Writing), where I explain where I got the idea from for what has been an exceptionally satisfying writing experience.

The Jackdaw Birdhouse is a 7,560-word micro-novella that aspires to elicit your own thoughts on revenge. If you dare to try it, and find that you are gripped or even modestly entertained, please leave a rating and/or a review on your platform of choice. And if you know others who would also enjoy it, I’d really appreciate your generosity in sending the link their way too :)

Thank you!

How to choose your beta readers

A little over a week ago (I know; I’m terrible), we established that writers need beta readers, and why. I didn’t want to make that post too long, so I thought I would continue with the process of choosing your beta readers here.

choose your beta readers

Here are some tips to consider when choosing who should read and critique your writing:

1. Choose people who read

I read wide. I don’t read deep. For me, it was good to choose a beta reader or two who are well-read and could provide insight gleaned from their wide reading experiences. They brought to the table the experience of everything they’d read before my work, and in light of that they could tell me what they liked, didn’t like, loved, and hated. Two of my betas brought their inter-literary strength and, looking through those goggles, told me how to pull off what they could see I had intended, but hadn’t quite achieved by the second draft.

2. Choose people who don’t read

Two of my betas were new to modern fiction, yet passionate newbies to say the least. Why should I trust the opinions of people who don’t read? Well, because to them, the experience of reading is novel (haha, right?) and they could give me untempered, untainted feedback from eyes that are new to this reading thing. It works because it drills to the core of the reading experience. Avid, voracious readers become hardened and, sometimes forgiving when writing techniques are obvious or when certain words, phrases and punctuation tricks act more like narrative tools than as simply conveying meaning. New readers will call you out on tricks that seem too obvious, or if you’re being obscure.

3. Choose readers who enjoy your genre

This one speaks for itself. This kind of beta reader will be your litmus test as to whether you’re on the genre money or if you’re missing the mark. One of my betas had only started reading horror because I introduced the concept of beta-reading my work about a month or two before I needed his help. He read other horror with a proverbial pen and paper in his mind so that he could check the boxes (or not) when he was tasked with reading my manuscript. This was super helpful.

4. Don’t choose readers who want to please you

While it’s almost impossible to not enjoy the flattery of someone telling you how brilliant and amazing your writing is, save that craving for your book-signing event. Beta reading is not the time for flattery – it’s a time for learning. Choose people who will be 150% honest with you about where you can improve, and about what will make your story better. Two of my beta readers are very close friends of mine, and while certain writing advice blogs have discouraged choosing friends as betas (the idea that beta reading can be a friendship-ending activity), it worked well because I don’t take constructive criticism personally, and because I choose my friends well.

5. Choose other writers

Since writers are familiar with the mechanics of writing, they’ll know exactly what to look for. However, for all the points mentioned above, don’t only choose other writers to do beta reading for you. Three of my betas are writers at varying levels of experience, and their feedback was truly valuable from both the reader and writer perspective.

I can’t write a post about choosing beta readers without mentioning this awesome post by Belinda Pollard (again :) ). What makes a good beta reader? covers all the bases of how to choose your ideal beta readers, and it’s worth the read. It’s important to note that you can’t just choose willy-nilly. Your future as a writer is on the line.

On that note, I’ve just published a micro-horror and couldn’t have polished it to its current condition without the help from my betas: Mat, Kurt, Nangi, Etienne, Pippa, and Nicci. Consider these guys my entourage on my international book signing… it’s coming… soon :P

Feel free to shoot a comment below on your beta reader experience. What do you look for in a beta reader? Had any great or not-so-great experiences? Tell me!

Why all authors need beta readers

Beta readers

My English Honours degree and I have come a long way together.

Together, we’re perfectionist. We dress me up in my GrammarNazi robe and hat every morning. We ensure that I get paid to make words sparkle. When I write, I don’t get drunk and pen some genius before handing my scribbling over to a copy-editor. I AM that editor.

So what do I do with the truth of: You cannot edit your own writing?

Am I going to pay someone else to tell me how my story needs to be polished?

No.

I exchange novelty for feedback. Hello, beta readers!

What are beta readers?
Like beta testers of new software, beta readers will tackle your new manuscript and try to break it. Essentially, their job is to tell you what doesn’t work and where you should focus your attention on improving your writing. Their job isn’t to stroke your ego and promote your work, but to shine a light on what can make it better.

Belinda Pollard wrote an awesome post about What is a beta reader and why do I need one? She has a great series on beta-readers – there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel here. Go read it there.

Why all authors need beta readers
You’re too close to your story. Just as you wouldn’t have a family member with medical certification as your GP, so you cannot edit, proof, or test your own writing. You need commentary from people who can be objective about it and look for the things you can no longer see. You need emotional distance from your writing. And you need strong, honest people to tell you how you can improve it – NO writer is above improvement.

When to have your manuscript beta’d
While you may get excited when you have completed a manuscript, Draft 1 is NOT the right version to be giving to your beta readers. Draft 1 is for your eyes only. Draft 1, in all its messy, fantastical, and arrogant glory, needs to be saved and left alone for a while – i.e.: the time it takes to get your life back in order after a writing marathon. Only after you’ve gone back to edit and make some sense of Draft 1 (and created Draft 2, 3, 6, or 8), should you even think of showing it to your beta readers. Only subject your beta readers to work that you’d be comfortable showing complete strangers – don’t expect their forgiveness or leniency for shitty writing.

How to choose beta readers
That’s for next time… stay tuned.

 

Do you use beta readers? What has your experience been like? If you’re a beta reader, tell me why and who you enjoy reading for…

A quick guide to self-editing

There are a bajillion long-winded posts out there about how to edit your own work, so I’m not going to wax lyrical about the process (there’s a link at the bottom for some detailed self-editing).

If you’re a serious writer, you won’t have the time to be belly-aching about self-editing. You know you have to do it, so do it.

Here’s how.

Hopefully this list comprises some handy tips for editing your own work – a sobering reminder that you need quite a few drafts before you submit your work… anywhere.

Keep calm and edit your writing

1. Finish Writing

Never, ever, ever start editing your work before you’ve finished it. Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, or flash fiction piece, finish it. If you get into the bad habit of going back to edit Chapter 1 or Page 1, you’ll never finish it. Writers who edit while they write become the world’s worst self-deprecating procrastinators…

2. Leave the beast alone

Difficult as it may be, put your first draft aside and get started with something else. Your brain needs a new toy to focus on while it reboots. A rebooted brain coming back to a first draft can look upon it with fresh eyes. You need this when self-editing.

3. Print out your manuscript

Oh, don’t give me that tree-huggy bollocks about saving paper and not doing any printing… when you secretly long to be a global bestseller published in multiple languages. What do you think those paperbacks are going to be printed on? So, when you self-edit, print out your manuscript so that you can sit on the couch and work it over with your red pen. Seeing your writing as a manifested object may also just sharpen your desire for quality, which helps you to edit better.

4. Be the reader

Read it as you would want to read something by another author. If you find it difficult to distance yourself, then you haven’t left your manuscript alone for long enough. Refer back to #2.

So WordPress lost the rest of this post… a great reminder that maybe I should just write offline and post online. Moving along swiftly

One of the links I had prepared before the internet ate my work was this SUPER HANDY self-editing checklist. I have printed it out to remind me what to focus on while I self-edit. I suggest you do the same:

Red Pencil Round-up: Self-editing for fiction writers

5. Pick your beta-readers

One important step in the self-editing process is to get other people to review and comment on your work. These “other people” are beta-readers who – like beta-testers – give your story a test run before you release it to the world, and offer you constructive feedback on how to improve it.

Stay tuned for a new post on how to choose the right beta readers for your fiction…

6. After beta, review and publish

That seems like a lot of self-editing, but it’s necessary. An unpolished diamond just isn’t received the same as a true gem. Don’t show the world your unpolished diamond.

 

If you have great editing tips to share, throw them down in the comments and help other writers…

I’ll write in a minute, I just need to do this one thing first…

Cole:

She’s at it again! Here’s some great writers’ motivational advice from Ms. Bell. So well-worded, so profound. Now answer that FOMO and read it!

Originally posted on Imogen Bell Writing:

Writers, stop it! You know what ‘it’ is. We’re all guilty of it.

Words don’t get written on their own. Your idea may outstrip George R.R. Martin for death, gore, intricate stories and general compelling ‘what the frell?’-ness. But if you don’t write it, nobody except you will know.

Procrastination is our number one enemy. So how do you get motivated to keep things going?

1. Set a timer

The oldest trick in every writing manual. If you can set a timer for five, ten, fifteen minutes and force yourself to write, you’ll either get so engrossed you’ll end up continuing – or at least will have a few more sentences on the page.

2. Do something different

Why are you stalling? A good story should be cascading from your fingertips, like the reverse of when Willow steals all the dark magic from the books

Perhaps your form is…

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