Shannon Virgo is an up and coming Australian novelist. Yep, he’s written a proper, full length novel! That’s pretty cool, and you guys get to learn from what he’s been through. Shannon has written an article for you about the problems he faced, and what he learnt about himself through the novel writing process.  (Shannon has several other novels to get down on paper!) – KGshannon-virgo-writer-author-novelist

“Being an avid reader I always entertained the idea of publishing my own work. I am a fantasy/sci fi nut, which gave me a solid grounding in the mechanics of a good story, but the process seemed so daunting that I never seemed to get around to putting pen to paper. While I have no formal background in writing and no secondary tuition in literary studies, I didn’t really consider this a huge drawback given the industry support, with respect to professional editing and so on, so I thought I would just bludgeon my way through it. My early attempts were met with mixed success, having short articles published in fishing and gold prospecting magazines isn’t exactly the height of success in writing, but was enough to keep that spark burning in the back of my mind that I had a shot at writing something of substance.

My first real attempt at a “book” as such, was a manual for the repair of computers. My background being in the electrical trades. Sure we’ve all seen the series of books such as “Computers for Dummies”, but I had hoped to do it better, as even those publications were too complex for the average Joe. When it was completed I was pretty happy with myself and submitted the manuscript for peer review. The feedback wasn’t encouraging, in a nutshell the content was dull and boring, interesting only those who already understood the content. Talk about being deflated. However all was not lost, the people who were good enough to give me their honest opinions pointed out that the “fill” where I talked about life, gave a little history and cracked the odd joke, in between serious content was entertaining. Had I considered writing fiction?

I am a strong believer that we probably learn more from our mistakes than our successes, so I stood back for a while and considered my position. Why had I written the computer manual? The answer was because it was easy, a topic I knew inside out. Big mistake, I spent all my spare time reading Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Bob Salvatore, yet my first real work is on computers. It is a human failing I guess to stick to what you know instead of risking yourself on something that you love, but are not real confident with. I needed to move outside my comfort zone. Back to the drawing board.

So where to begin. I pulled out the books I loved and basically dissected them. I had bits of paper and plot maps and scribble everywhere but a pattern seemed to emerge. The good guy, the bad guy and the associated characters. Each novel seemed to tell the stories of all these people individually to a point, then the characters came together for a grand crescendo, ideally with some epic twist at the end. The stories all started with a “hook” that got the reader interested at the beginning and maintained their interest throughout with suspense. In a television program the suspense is quickly followed by an advertisement to make the watcher hang for a bit. In a novel the author switches to a different character or part of the storyline for a few chapters to create the same effect. Piece of cake.

I spent months trying to come up with a good plot to no avail. I didn’t think it would be this hard, then I had an epiphany moment. The computer manual was easy because I understood the content, perhaps fiction could work the same way. What did I love in the real world? What was going on around me? Who would make good characters in a story? What did I really want to happen in all those Stephen King books when I started reading and daydreamed as to where the story would lead?

We were approaching the end of 2012, the doomsayers were all preaching an end to the world as we knew it on December the 21st, sensational, there was my storyline. OK I thought to myself, how can this go down, my research began. I looked at every possible fear mankind had for end of the world disasters and their associated prophecies. It was like baking a cake, throw in a pile of disease, nasty nuclear war, add one asteroid strike and empty out all the stuff in the book of Revelation. My main character would basically be me under a different name doing what I’d always done until the poo hit the fan on December 21 and the guts of my story would revolve around those left behind.

I wrote about fifty pages of my story before the demons crept in. Is the story any good? Will people think this is rubbish and I’m a weirdo? How can I hope to compete with the big boys? And so on… Time to stand back again and weigh things up. What did I want from the story? The answer was nothing, I wanted to write a story because I thought I had it in me, any success or failure was irrelevant, at the end of the day I will have left my mark on the world for better or worse. I decided to have ten cents each way and showed what I’d written to my sister and a friend. Both were super encouraging. My sister (God bless her) decided it was going to be a smash hit and drove me mad for each new chapter as it was written. I carried on with renewed vigour.

Eventually I reached a point where it was unwise to stop what I was writing. I found that stopping for any period of time resulted in a loss of momentum that could only be regained by rereading everything I had written so far which was super time consuming. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford to take a significant amount of time leave without pay from work to finish my book. I moved to a coastal caravan park for six months and plowed on. This is when the magic began.

To say the story wrote itself would be an understatement. The plot evolved on its own, fringe characters came alive and became main characters, I was thinking so far ahead I had to stop and create my own plot map to ensure everything flowed properly. Crazy twists and turns just popped into my brain, so much so that if I were to give advice to others on fiction writing I would simply say get an idea and start writing, if it has any substance it will finds its way onto the paper. Although many months passed, one day I found myself typing two words I thought I would never see….The end. In a way I was relieved but I was also disappointed. The process had given me such direction and purpose when I finally finished it felt like losing some part of my life. OK so I’m finished, what the hell do I do now?

I decided to stay close to home initially, printing out my rough manuscript and allowing people to read it to get some feedback. I tracked down old English Literature teachers from high school, got hold of a copy of The Australian Writers Marketplace and made contact with The Australian Writers Guild. Perhaps the only notable successful local author, Fleur McDonald was also good enough to give me some feedback which I found really positive. The big problem I faced in a small town was plenty of people had written books but other than Fleur’s romance novels the rest were almost exclusively works of non-fiction. I got a lot of “I think it’s good, but not really my genre”, which just allowed the doubts to creep back in.

The Australian Writers guild is a fantastic body to put you in contact with mentors and allow you to submit new works for peer review and feedback. The big publishing houses also offer opportunities to make submissions of a few chapters and a synopsis of your work at various intervals throughout the year with a view to picking up new talent. Fair warning though, the offers can be pretty miserable if you get any response at all. It is not uncommon to be offered a modest retainer for the rights to publish, but the fine print says the publishing house gets 75% of the proceeds up to the sale of 100 000 books before the author gets any significant money.

This brings us to where I am up to at present. I am still fielding feedback from the peer review process and taking on board the thoughts of the kind people who have reviewed my work. I won’t corrupt the feel of my story by trying to take on board everything that has been suggested, but I am still looking at a fair amount of work. What people liked, what they didn’t like, what was good but not long enough, what was too long, what they didn’t quite follow etc. Further character development also seems inevitable. It also appears I may need a new title as it has been used previously. Once these corrections have been undertaken I intend to go down the path of paying for professional editing prior to publishing. I have been lucky enough to pick up a private sponsor prepared to publish my work if I wish for 25% of any revenue raised, which seems a fair offer.

At the end of the day I’m just a regular guy that had a go. For all I know you guys may end up reading my book and think it’s the greatest pile of rubbish ever! I never set out to write my book to be rich and famous, it was just something I wanted to do, if anything comes of it that will just be a bonus. Hopefully my thoughts and rough outline of the process I have been through are of value to the aspiring author. Perhaps if Kat is good enough to let me do another guest post at some point I can give you an update on how the process ended. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, even if it means going outside your comfort zone, don’t die wondering!”

Shannon

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Solvitur Ambulando

January 4, 2014

In 2013 I caught up with an old friend in New York City and we stumbled onto discussing the biological future and potential of humankind. Maybe we could grow new mind-body-connection-kat-graybodies from stem cells and transplant our brains into a new body? Maybe we could have robot bodies and transplant our brains into much stronger and longer lasting bodies?

It was an interesting conversation, but I also remember feeling doubt about the robot-brain thing. Our brains are the way they are because the human body is the way it is. They affect each other. Without a human body, you wouldn’t have a human brain.

Lao Tzu said, “When the body’s intelligence declines cleverness and knowledge step forth.” A human’s mind becomes wise as the body naturally ages. Would a wise mind become immature or different when gifted with a shiny new body?

Both the mind and body are dependent on each other to create the whole human being. A change in the body will cause a change in the brain and therefore, altered behavior and/or thought patterns.

“Kill the body and the mind will follow, you understand?” – Shannon R. Virgo (unpublished author)

As I pointed out in an earlier post, “This is like this, because that is like that”. And what serves as a great demonstration of this principle, especially related to the human mind-body connection, is the concept outlined in “Spark! How exercise will improve the performance of your brain.” by Dr John J Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

Exercise changes the chemistry in your brain for the better. Humans are made to move, so when we dont, things get out of whack in the brain department. Exercise is an antidepressant, stimulant and even helps you to increase growth of new brain cells. As well as growing muscle when you exercise, you are growing more brain as well.

Coincidentally, or perhaps causally, I wrote this blog post just after finishing an early morning exercise session. Thirty minutes on the treadmill to start the day and when I finished the 30 minutes, I just had to sit down and write this post, which seemed to just bubble up out of the ether as I was putting one foot in front of the other.

“Solvitur Ambulando” translates to, “It is solved by walking.”

 

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Balanced

July 17, 2013

What goes up must come down. The opposite is also true.

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‘Adapt’ is the New Black

July 16, 2013

Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens. That’s the difference between machines and humans. If you push a machine past its comfort zone, it wears out and breaks down. If you push a human past their comfort zone, out into the fringe of fear, they will adapt or die. Evolution in plain sight. […]

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