My Bookweek Appearance at Moorefield Girls High

It was over a month ago, but I’m finally doing the blog post. In my defence, it’s because I was tackled and beaten by Monster Flu followed by its side-kick Sinus Infection. Yes, it all sounds ew, and it was, but I’m back!

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So here’s my news — I was honoured to be asked to speak at Moorefield Girls High during Australian Bookweek, and look, I’m even on their poster! I’ve spoken at a few places, including the Sydney Writers Festival, but this was the first time I’ve spoken to a large group of teenagers. I was a tad nervous beforehand, but I shouldn’t have been — the girls were awesome. I spoke to three groups: Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9.  They were a fantastic audience and made me feel very welcome. After they’d asked me tons of interesting question, I was flattered when many of the girls asked for my autograph — I even autographed someone’s bag! Well, I felt like I had arrived :).

While I was there, I asked why the girls read. And these are two of the thoughtful answers I received, and I can certainly relate:

Christine J wrote: I read to relax myself, easing into a new world that another has created. When I read, I concentrate. Once I start with a new book I won’t stop reading it until I’m done. I usually sleep at 11 pm – 3 am on weekends because of reading. My mum tells me to sleep early but I can’t because reading is like an addiction for me, just like listening to music.

Macia A wrote: I read because I love literature. I love how a good author can make words flow, make you laugh and cry. Sure reading is an escape, but I wouldn’t say I read to escape, rather, the book takes me away to another world, someone else’s brain. Books are food for the soul. I read because I’m a word addict. I don’t remember when I got hooked, but now I can’t stop. I don’t want to.

Thanks girls! Their experience shows how important reading is, and how it can become an addiction (the best kind). When I write, I feel like I’m feeding my soul, and it’s wonderful to think the readers feel the same when they’re reading.

I would like to thank Miss Bell-Whittaker, the librarian who organised the event, and the girls who were attentive and made the experience lots of fun. I hope to get back to see you all soon! Below is a picture of me in front of a blank screen. You can’t see the audience either, but no, I was not talking to myself. Really, I wasn’t….

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Piss-Funny Writing-Related Podcast—Tweep Nation

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Ok, so the heading is a tad crass, but that’s what you get when you listen to Tweep Nation. Amber Norrgard and I have been recording Tweep Nation for the past year and a half. Every week we interview authors and we’ve been known to interview a musician and next week is an artist. I guarantee this podcast will teach you something and make you laugh (maybe at the same time). We discuss writing, publishing, life and any manner of inappropriate things (too inappropriate to name here).

Just a word of warning, or maybe this will be the thing that makes you listen, we do swear and ruin things for people: fairly floss has been likened to clown pubes, we will make you paranoid about wee germs in public toilets, one of our guests lost his virginity to a midget in a threesome, and some of our guests have shot people (so has Amber, come to think of it).

If you’re still intrigued and need a laugh, you can download the awesome Tweep Nation podcast from iTunes, Stitcher and Newbiewriters.

Ciao, and beware the wee germs.

Wrap-up Self-Publishing Panel Sydney Writers Festival 2013

The 23rd May, 2013 came into being during a relentless autumn downpour. This was a tragedy! How was I going to walk from the Domain car park to the NSW State Library without my hair suffering ruination? How could I talk at the Sydney Writers Festival on The Forest for the Trees self-publishing panel if I looked like a smelly, old dog who’d just rolled in a muddy puddle?

With my umbrella glued to my head, I walked along the Macquarie Street footpath, cursing every raindrop. Just shy of my destination, when I thought I had survived nature’s onslaught and retained fabulous hair, some jerk, from the warm, dry comfort of his motor vehicle, swamped me with a wave of wet stuff when he (I’m assuming it was a man because they are always doing silly things) drove through a massive puddle and drenched my jeans. I think I actually growled and I definitely swore. Marching on, determined to ignore my plight, I reached my destination.

Okay, enough of the theatrics. I’ll get down to business now. I was honoured to be asked by the organisers of the Sydney Writers Festival (the biggest writers festival in Australia) to sit on the self-publishing panel. I love sharing what I’ve learnt in the last year and a half, with other writers who are dreaming of life as a published author and here was an awesome opportunity.

Chairing the panel was the kind and knowledgable author and crowd-funding specialist, Anna Maguire. She asked awesome questions of myself and the two other authors (who were also wonderful peeps), Chris Allen and Elisabeth Storrs.

From left to right: Elisabeth Storrs, Dionne Lister, Anna Maguire, Chris Allen
From left to right: Elisabeth Storrs, Dionne Lister, Anna Maguire, Chris Allen

Our roads to self-publishing were different: I have always (and probably always will be) self-published, Chris started as self-published but is now with Momentum Publishing, and Elisabeth started with a traditionally published book, but  moved to be self published and actually decided not to renew her publishing contract when her publisher was bought out by another company. We all agreed that professional self-publishing is a good avenue for aspiring writers to pursue. Here are some pertinent points from our discussion (some of them refer to trad published authors too):

1. Have a blog/website.

2. Interact in the social media forum where you feel most comfortable.

3. Have your book edited!!!! One of the questions was “How much does it cost?” Editors charge at different rates—I’d say as a general rule between $40-$80 an hour (depending on their experience,  reputation, and workload). The quote you receive also depends on the amount of time it will take to edit your work and the word count. When I edit, if the writing is good, I can edit up to 4,000 words an hour, if the writing is not so good, it can take an hour to edit 1,500 words, so prices for a 60,000 word book could range anywhere from $750-$2,500. If your writing is really not ready for editing, the editor should tell you and not take the job. If this happens with me, I edit a paragraph and tell the author to go away, learn what I’ve explained and apply it to the book before resubmitting. A good editor won’t want to waste your time or theirs.

4. Have your book proof-read.

5. Spend time creating a great cover which is relevant to your genre or set aside a budget to pay a professional.

6. Be patient: it takes time for the word to spread about your book and you want to be in it for the long haul.

7. This is a business so treat it like one and realise you will need to invest money and a lot of time.

8. Traditional publishing is not all it’s cracked up to be. Elisabeth felt that her original publisher supported her with editing and cover, but only provided marketing and support for six weeks after her book came out. She is much happier as a self-published author and she retains all her royalties (you have to sell three to four times the amount of books as a trad published author to receive the same royalties). Incidentally, Elisabeth was so happy with her editor that she now pays her on a freelance basis to edit her self-published books.

9. You have total control as a self-published author. You can see what marketing works because you have access to your sales figures and you get paid every six weeks to three months (if your book is selling). With a traditional publisher, you must wait six months to be paid.

10. As a self-published author you have the ability to price the book to sell. I have seen many (not all) of the big publishers price their authors’ e-books out of the market because they are trying to protect their print interests. If you don’t believe me, check out some of these books on Amazon. I buy a lot of e-books for Club Fantasci and I often have to pay between $10 and $15 for an e-book!

11. The support of other writers is invaluable. Connect with authors on Twitter or Facebook because they will answer your questions about how to upload to Amazon, or who is a good editor, they will spread the news of your book sales, and they will support you with a kind word or funny anecdote on the days you receive a bad review or the weeks when you’ve hardly sold any books.

12. The credibility of self-published authors is still suffering because too many of these authors write a first draft and press the ‘publish’ button. If we want to be taken seriously, we all need to follow the professional route (ie editing, learning the craft, doing good covers) and encourage other self-published authors we know to do the same.

Something we didn’t discuss on the day, as we ran out of time (we could have talked all day), was, in my opinion, the importance of learning your craft. If you can’t afford a university degree in creative writing or literature, there are many online or local courses you can take. If you live in Sydney, The NSW Writers Centre has loads of fantastic courses run by some of the most experienced and talented writers in Australia, as does the Australian Writers Centre.

I predict that many mid-list, traditionally published authors, will decide to self-publish in the coming years. Why wouldn’t you if you have an established fan base and great editing/cover contacts since you will earn a lot more money?

If you want your book to shine, to impress people, and to sell; if you want to survive in the new age of publishing, be professional and patient. I’m happy to say that self-publishing is no longer a dirty word (even though a lot of publishers still scoff at self-published authors) and it will continue to lose its negative connotations if we all work on doing the right thing. If you are an author considering self publishing, I wish you all the best. Feel free to contact me on twitter or through my facebook page if you have any questions on the subject. Cheers and thanks again to the organisers of The Sydney Writers Festival!

Short Story—A Chill in the Chimes

Here is a suspense/horror story I wrote about a year ago. I have it for sale on Amazon and Smashwords for 99 cents, but I thought ‘what the hell?’ why don’t I just share it, cause if you like it, you might go and buy Dark Spaces, my book of short, suspenseful stories. Please read and enjoy!

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The cottage at 124 Cook Street huddled in darkness. Bony twigs intermittently tapped on the window. Yellowed curtains trembled, as cold gusts poked teasing fingers through the cracked panes. Nature’s epilepsy shook the Smith’s wind chime, sending otherworldly notes ringing into the storm.

Serrated light slashed and blinded, and deep, sonorous thunder vibrated the home to its foundations. A bone-breaking crack tore a muscled appendage from the scribbly gum. The timbered weight fell; a guillotine slicing, sending shards of red tiles stabbing into the rain. Water bled into the wound. The chimes lay strangled on the front porch while 124 Cook Street waited in waterlogged silence for morning.

***

Andrew stood amongst the carnage of last night: shredded leaves, broken branches, strips of bark from trees skinned alive. He stared at the wounded weatherboard cottage. 124 Cook Street needed help. He resisted the urge to rub his hands together as he trod up the two steps to the front door. A wind chime lay tangled on the porch, its silver fingers mangled and arthritic. Andrew prodded it with a booted toe and knocked on the door.

When no one answered, he rapped again. Still nothing. He looked over his shoulder. An SES car inched past, surveying the damage. No one else was about. He turned the handle and gently pushed. The door creaked open, and he extended his head into the gap. ‘Hello?’ His voice croaked. He cleared his throat, ‘Hello? Is anyone home?’

An elderly lady shuffled through a door at the end of the hallway. She smiled the too-perfect smile of dentures. Deep lines ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw, and Andrew was reminded of an animated, yet lifeless, ventriloquist’s dummy.

‘Can I help you?’  She reached the front door and her wrinkled lips settled closed.

‘I’m with the Emergency Services. The branch that fell through your roof has done heaps of damage. You must be flooded. I need to come in and take a look, make sure it’s safe.’ He slid his hand into his pocket and ran a thumb along the hilt of his knife, feeling the smooth bumps, which suggested the torso of a mermaid.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Phillip Baker.’ He extended the mermaid-fondling hand, and she shook it.

‘Pleased to meet you Mr Baker, I’m Gladys Smith. Please come in.’

Andrew understood why her hand was so cold when he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. Green floral wallpaper peeling at the cornices, and spotted with stains of rising damp, complimented the shag-pile carpet, which reminded him of dead grass in its brownness. As mould spores tickled his nose, he was six years old again, crying and waving goodbye to his mother from his grandparents’ hallway. She never returned.

As he followed Gladys he wondered if he’d picked the wrong house. What could they possibly have to steal? He hoped to find some of the old woman’s jewellery, or maybe the clichéd stash of cash under the mattress. Stupid old people.

Both his hands sought the warmth of his pockets as they reached the lounge room.  The ceiling shed flakes of dandruff over everything. A brown velour sofa sat facing an old walrus of a television; the type that you’d have to pay to have removed. He scanned the contents of a dusty wall-unit and saw the crap it had taken Gladys a lifetime to accumulate. Not much to show for her existence: lace doilies, two ceramic figurines—pink ladies with parasols—and a row of faded floral plates on stands. He turned to speak to the old woman, but the room was empty.

He hadn’t seen or heard her leave. Was he so caught up in looking at nonsensical knick-knacks that he’d forgotten what he was doing? The quicker he got this over with, the better. Looking forward to the bottle of Jack Daniels and few hours of oblivion he’d buy with part of the proceeds, he turned back to the hallway, thinking Gladys’s bedroom would be one of the front rooms.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

Andrew stopped and brought a hand up to his chest, goose bumps peppering his arms. When he turned back, Gladys stood right behind him. What the hell? ‘Um, ok. That would be great thanks. I was just looking for the damaged ceiling. I need to see it so I can let you know what it will take to fix.’ If she didn’t leave him alone he’d have to let the knife do the persuading: it wouldn’t be the first time he’d used it.

‘That can wait young man. I’d rather you didn’t go in there right now. My husband’s asleep.’ Her dark eyes picked at something within him, something he refused to acknowledge as fear. ‘Now sit down. How do you take your tea?’

‘Look, it won’t take long, and I’ve got other houses to look at.’

She stared at him, eyes narrowing.

‘White and one please.’

She nodded, and her mouth curled up ever so slightly.

His need itched, but he ignored it and lowered himself onto the dusty lounge. How could anyone sleep in a saturated bed? A clammy miasma enveloped him, and the room darkened. He remembered his grandparents’ wrath, and waiting for his mother; always waiting. Still waiting.

The sharp smell of freshly turned earth was so strong he could taste the grit. He looked down and imagined he could see thousands of dirt-encrusted worms writhing within the graveyard of ancient carpet.  Fuck her and her tea. He jumped up and strode to the hall, pulling the knife out of his pocket as he went.

Two closed doors waited for him to choose. The tree had fallen on the room to his left. He reached for the handle and added Xanax to his to-buy list. He looked over his shoulder. Gladys wasn’t there. He breathed out and turned the knob, muscles tensed, waiting for the squeak of the door as he inched it open. A stronger smell of earth, mildew and something else, crawled out of the darkness—he gagged. Covering his mouth with a sleeve, he paused and thought of giving up for real this time, walking out, maybe finding another house; but the thought of being so close, and the voice that called him a pathetic coward, goaded him to continue.

He ducked in and closed the door. His fingers felt for the light-switch. Click. Nothing. He pulled the knife out of his pocket and strained to see. A large shadow hulked in front of him. His heart raced, and he stepped forward, the carpet squelching under his boots. He could just make out the outline of a bed seeping out of the gloom, and the bigger shadow was most likely the ceiling collapsed on top of it, still attached by a plastered crease to the beams above.

With the door closed, the smell he couldn’t define fleshed out and became something he recognised: the syrupy tang of decay. He coughed through his sleeve, and his eyes watered. Stealing from the bottle-o would be easier than this. He found his excuse and hurried to the door, waving the knife in front of him, trying to swipe away the dread that pushed through his pores.

As he reached for the handle, the door opened in a rush, the putrefied air sucked into the void. Gladys. Her wrinkled hand, with its paper-thin, liver-spotted skin, grasped a carving knife. She smiled her wooden smile. ‘I told you not to go in there. You came to steal, didn’t you? You picked the wrong house, sonny boy.’ She cackled and thrust herself forward. Andrew dropped his knife and grabbed at her arms, his fingers sinking into wrinkled folds of flesh.

The strength of the old woman surprised Andrew, and he screamed when the knife pierced his skin. Gladys’s gurgling laugh accompanied the blood seeping out of Andrew’s stomach. He sank to the floor, gasping his demise, while his clothes soaked up stagnant moisture.

The old woman stood over him. She reached down, pulled the knife out and lifted her arm to strike again. Footsteps sounded on the porch, and Andrew screamed. The front door burst in. The knife came down.

***

Andrew woke as they finished strapping him to the gurney. He listened, eyes closed, to the voices around him.

‘Crazy shit indeed. Some SES workers heard him screaming.’

‘Lucky. How long do you reckon that old couple ‘ave been dead?’

‘Looks like at least a month. The guy we got here stabbed himself. God knows why. We found I.D. and confirmed his grandparents used to live here, before that other old couple, Gladys and Bob. He was a ward of the state for a while. Stuffed in the head I reckon.’

‘Ha, you can say that again. Anyway, better get him out of here before he bleeds to death.’

The ambulance drove down Cook Street, past injured houses, ruined gardens, ravished trees. The damage would be cleaned up, patched, made new again. What couldn’t be fixed would be taken away, dumped, and forgotten.

At 124, a policeman noticed the silver reflection of sunlight hitting the wounded wind chime. He picked it up and smiled. It would look great all polished up and hanging from his front porch. His wife would love it. As he dangled it from one hand, he brushed the chimes with his other; discordant notes sounded a lament.

A chill licked the back of Andrew’s neck. The wailing of the siren drowned out his screams.

 

 

 

 

Shadows of the Realm Nominated in 2013 eFestival of Words Awards!

eFestival of Words Awards
eFestival of Words Awards

My days just get more and more exciting. I’m proud and happy to announce that my debut novel Shadows of the Realm has been nominated in two categories in the eFestival of Words Awards. It’s an award solely (that word looks weird, solely, hmm, anyway…) for self-published authors and authors who are published with small indie presses. Shadows of the Realm has been nominated in the Fantasy and the YA categories and I’ve even been nominated for an editing award for Amber Jerome-Norrgard’s short story, David. I’ve noticed that Wool, by Hugh Howie, is in there too, so he adds some awesome cred to these awards.

The books are nominated by your peers and then the field is narrowed down by hard-working volunteers who work with eFestival of Words. Then comes the scary part: on the 1st June, 2013, the final list of books is announced and can be voted on by the reading public (although you have to be a registered member of their site to vote). I’m sure I’ll be hounding everyone for votes when the time comes. Even if I’m not an overall winner, I’m so happy just to make it as a nominated author and editor. I’d also like to say good luck to all the other authors who have been nominated. I hope you’re all as excited as I am!

Shadows of the Realm
Shadows of the Realm

Dark Spaces—Book of Suspenseful Short Stories—on Sale!

Dark Spaces is a collection of suspenseful short stories that deal with the darkness in human nature, and it’s on sale now for only 99 cents! OMG, what can you buy for 99 cents these days? A third of a coffee, ten toothpicks, one peanut? Trust me, it’s a bargain.

Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister
Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister

Dark Spaces has been getting great reviews, but I’ve been neglecting promotion because my fantasy series has been begging for my attention. So now it’s Dark Space’s turn. Run out and grab your copy while it’s still 99 cents. This promotion will run for two weeks (until the 18th May, 2013).

You can download from Smashwords (which has every format you could want) and Amazon. Happy reading, or should I say scary reading ;).

How Did This Happen? I’m talking at the Sydney Writers Festival

2013 is turning into a fantabulous year. First Shadows of the Realm reached number 1 in two categories on Amazon (albeit for a short while), then I was lucky enough to talk at the NSW Writers Centre, my second book came out last week (after months of hard work), and now I’m smiling my way through April and May—until I get to speak at the most amazing event of 2013 (at least for me) on 23rd May. The Sydney Writers Festival is a week-long event that attracts thousands of readers, writers and those with an interest in cultural things (hmm, things is such a low-brow, simple word, but all the excitement of this year has my brain lost for anything more appropriate).

Over 500 authors, journalists and creative types (including Molly Ringwald, Ruby Wax and Michael Carlton) are presenting. It’s an amazing festival to be a part of.  I don’t know how I got to be so lucky, but I’m going to enjoy it and hope it’s not the last one I get to natter at.

As an advocate for professional self-publishing, I’m sitting on a panel called The Author as Everything—Publisher, Printer, Publicist, which will discuss the ins and outs of self-publishing and is being chaired by Anna Maguire (who has many years experience in publishing and now helps self-published authors). Authors Chris Allen and Elisabeth Storrs will be joining us. It’s part of a day-long seminar on publishing in general, called The Forest for the Trees, which will be super interesting (trust me on this) and encompasses insights from publishers, authors and agents. If you can make it, it would be great to see you (well, ok, I also need some people to hold up the “I love Dionne” banners and cheer when I say something clever).

Tickets can be purchased from the Sydney Writers Festival site.

Okay, I’m going now: I have to book my hair appointment,  choose an outfit (there’s only five weeks to go you know) and practice not swearing. Bye!