I know why you use that pseudonym

When people hear that our book will be published under the name ‘S. K. Dunstall’ they nod, and say, “You don’t want people to know you’re women, do you.”

(Those who don’t say that say, “I didn’t know women wrote science fiction,” or, “You don’t look like science fiction writers.”  I mean, what do science fiction writers look like?)

It’s often assumed that authors using initials for their given names are trying to hide their sex. In some genres this is the case, but not necessarily in the ones you would expect.

For example, I would have expected male romance writers to use initials. In my experience, mostly they don’t. They use their own name, or an androgynous or outright female pseudonym. MM romance writers, on the other hand, do sometimes use initials. Not to hide the fact the author is a man, but to hide that the author is a woman.

Some authors use their initials as a second author name. Nora Roberts, for example, also writes as J. D. Robb.

Gut feel, I’d say that nowadays women outnumber men in the initials game.

I don’t know what proportion of authors who use initials chose to do so to obscure their sex so that their readers come to their books without bias. Some do, for sure.

I know that we didn’t.

We didn’t even think of it, in fact, until people started to ask if we had used initials because we were entering a male dominated genre and we didn’t want people to know we were women. For us it was simply a matter of common sense. There are two of us. Put our names together and it’s a mouthful. We want our name large enough to see on the cover.

So when you see an author who uses initials, don’t assume they’re always trying to hide who they are. The reason may be as simple as wanting to make their name shorter.

Posted in Writing

Buying books outside of Amazon

So Hachette and Amazon finally came to an agreement. That’s good to see.

While the dispute was on I only bought one book from Amazon, and that one had been on order before the dispute started.

Interestingly, I’ve bought more books in the last six months than I have in the last six years. Especially eBooks. The best thing about the purchases is that they’ve all been .epub versions, so I can read them on my favourite eReader, rather than on the Kindle.

Posted in Writing

Serial comma offenders

The copy edits for LINESMAN came through and we’re currently working our way through them.

It’s official. We’re serial comma offenders.

The edited version was a sea of orange tracked changes. Our 400 page manuscript had 5,121 revisions. That’s right. 5,121.

It looks bad, but read on …

Most of these are comma issues. In particular, no comma before the ‘and’ at the end of a list, and no comma before a ‘too’, especially at the end of a sentence. There were also some words we hyphenated that we shouldn’t, and some words we should have hyphenated but we didn’t. The other copy changes pale in significance to this.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, for the way the changes are tracked mean that if you add a comma (or remove one) the word is deleted and a new one added. So the actual number of changes is closer to 2,500 than to 5,000. That’s still a lot.

Our copy editor deserves a medal.

Medal for Sara, copy-editor queen, who added and removed close on 2,000 commas. We'll do better next time, we promise.

Medal for Sara, copy-editor queen, who added and removed close on 2,000 commas. We’ll do better next time, we promise.

Memo to Australian writers trying to break into the US market. The Chicago Manual of Style and many other US style guides use serial commas. (Australian standard is to use them only for clarity.) If your publisher uses, say, the Chicago Manual of Style, there is an option you can turn on in Word grammar checking that allows you to check for a comma before a last list item. You’re going to find it useful.

Posted in Linesman, Publishing, Writing

You had a beautiful voice

It was late. You sat down half a carriage from us. It felt like we were the only three people on the train at that hour.

You started to talk. Low at first, a soft sea of sound, rising and falling like waves on the beach.

You got louder. You had a beautiful voice. Smooth, rich, mellifluous. Chocolate and honey were words made just to describe the sound. Magic. If you were in our book you would be line eight, rich and warm and pleasing to the ear, mixed in with a little sonorous line nine.

We sat, enthralled. We wanted to tell you how beautiful you sounded.

Your words got louder. A one-man monologue, just for us.

Louder. And louder, until we started to hear the words.

The filth that was coming out of your mouth was mind numbing. A constant string of invectives and threats.

You got louder. By the time we got off the train you were shouting.

You scared us. We made sure to exit via the furthest door.

You had a beautiful voice.

Posted in Writing

We put up with repulsive characters in movies, so why not in books?

A movie I like a lot is As Good As It Gets. It stars Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a sexist, racist, homophobic, obsessive-compulsive romance writer who is redeemed by Kinnear’s dog and by the waitress he falls in love with (Hunt).

Make no mistake, Nicholson’s character is truly repulsive. You spend half the movie squirming at some of the horrible things he says and does, and he never truly becomes a nice person. But he does become a better person.

It’s a movie I appreciate on an aesthetic level. The acting is superb, the storyline works for me and the characters all grow and change. I’ll watch it when they re-run it on tv.

And yet, if it was a book I would have thrown it down after one chapter—or maybe even one page—and refused to read it.

Because I didn’t like the main character.

A movie has to be truly bad to walk out of. We tend to give it a different value to a book. We’ve paid our money, we’re staying for the show whether we like it or not.

Some people read books to the end, no matter how bad they are. Most of us exercise our choice and drop a book as soon as we decide we don’t like it. A repulsive main character is a definite turn-off.

Why is it that we’re so ready to drop a book but will stick with a movie? Is it because we’ve paid money to see the movie? We pay as much or more for the book. Is it because movie watching is often a shared affair? Or is it simply that we hold higher standards for books than we do for movies?

What makes a character repulsive anyway? Sand dan Glokta does terrible things to people, yet everyone loves Glokta.

I wonder, if As Good As It Gets had been a book, would I have found something to like about Melvin Udall?

Posted in Characters

The latest strangeness from Office 365

I keep unpinning them, but every time I open the file, a second one pops up. And sometimes a third.

I keep unpinning them, but every time I open the file, a second one pops up. And sometimes a third.

Microsoft’s OneDrive isn’t perfect yet. The latest strangeness? Double-pinning and sometimes triple-pinning. It started happening a few days ago, and it started happening on all four PCs (both desktops and both laptops) on the same day.

The url under each filename is slightly different, but it points to the same file. I can open one, edit it, then open the other and the edits are carried across.

Methinks it’s another Microsoft ‘feature’*.

I hope they fix it soon. It’s driving me crazy.

* aka a bug.

Posted in Microsoft Office

Writing and a cruise, what could be better?


Cruising to better writing

Both Sherylyn’s and my favorite holiday is a cruise. And, of course, being writers, we enjoy conferences that teach writing. Not only that, I know for a fact that we get writing done on cruises.

So learning that the Out of Excuses 2015 writing workshop is on a cruise ship makes it very tempting.

We’d both love to do this.

Thinking hard, trying to justify it.

Posted in Writing general

Blood moon, good omens

There was a blood moon tonight. We watched the eclipse come in as we drove home. First it looked like a dirty black cloud obscuring the bottom corner of the moon. By the time we pulled into the driveway it was a big smudge a quarter of the way across the moonface.

We watched it on-and-off over the next hour, until there was a tiny sliver of light and the beginnings of a nice red moon.

Then the cloud cover moved in and that was the end of our moonwatching.

Still, eclipses have always meant good things in our household.

Sure enough, when we turned on the computer what did we see in our twitter feed?

Our first ‘official’ mention of Linesman in our editor’s tweet.

Talking about our book

It’s starting to feel real. This story is going to be published.

Posted in Writing


As a writer, you learn a lot from the submission process. Reading up on how to query, finessing your letter every time you send it out. Getting to know other writers, finding out what other authors go through—first in getting an agent, and what happens after that.

In fact, early success can cause its own problems through inexperience.

Take this example.

A writer I know netted the interest of an agent on her second query. The agent told her she loved her work and was interested in representing her. They agreed to call a week later to talk about the novel.

The writer was deliriously happy for a week. Then came the phone call. According to the writer,

“She spent 50 minutes trashing my novel.”

There are two responses to that, and it depends how much querying experience you have had as to how you respond.

If you’re new to the writing/querying business then you’ll be sympathetic.

“How awful,” you might say. “You were treated so badly.”

Yet those of us who’ve been querying a while will be thinking (and trying to say, but more tactfully),

“Do you realise what that means? You had an agent who loved your work. She agreed to take you on. She spent fifty minutes on the phone talking about ways to improve your book. Fifty minutes. And you’re insulted.”

Because in that time we’ve spent querying, we’ve haunted the internet, talked with other writers, read about agents, polished up on our queries, polished up our manuscript, and we’ve learned some things we didn’t know when we started out.

Somewhere along the way we come to understand that our book isn’t perfect. That getting the agent is only the first step to getting our novel published. That the agent will want us to fix things before he/she sends it out on submission. The editor will want changes too.

If my writer-friend had been submitting longer, she might have understood this. Instead, she was still too new to the process.

As you can imagine, she promptly parted ways with her agent. Two years on she is still bitter about the whole trad-pub thing and has adopted indie publishing with fervour.

I’m not sure if she’ll ever realise it was her own inexperience that set her along that path.

Posted in Agents

Aspiring or emerging?

Even though I write science fiction and fantasy, I am a member of the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA). I’ve been a member for years. I initially joined on the recommendation a fellow fantasy writer, who said she found it the most professional writers’ group she knew of for people who were serious about writing.

She was right.

Obviously, given what we (my co-author and I) write, I’m not the RWA’s target membership. I’m okay with that. I still get value out of the membership. And some of our stories do have romantic elements, so I’m not completely there under false pretences.

Recently, RWA reclassified their membership groupings. The new classifications are:

  • Aspiring … developing/writing a romance/romantic elements manuscript, developing their understanding of the craft and/or thinking about or actively entering contests.
  • Emerging … has had a romantic/romantic elements work commercially available or under contract for fewer than three years or … is consistently making the finals round in writing contests, is submitting and receiving requests from publishers or agents, or who has already secured an agent.
  • Established … has a romantic/romantic elements work commercially available or under contract, and … consistently/actively publishing longer than three years.

The italics are mine.

Initially all members are ‘aspiring’ authors, unless they reclassify themselves. Herein lies my dilemma. Technically, I would be an ‘emerging’ writer. I (we) have an agent. I (we) have a book under contract. Three books, in fact. Except … the book is pure science fiction. It’s a space opera and there isn’t any romance in this first book.

Decisions, decisions. Do I leave myself as ‘aspiring’ because I don’t meet the ‘romantic/romantic elements’ component? Or do I reclassify myself as ‘emerging’.

Still, it’s a nice dilemma to have.

Posted in Writing groups
November 2014
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