2000

The Contract

There’s not a great deal I can say about contracts … save that I’m glad I have someone else to negotiate them on my behalf! If you’ve been offered a contract then I advise you strongly to use a lawyer or agent, or at least to get their advice, during negotiations. I also want to emphasise that contracts are negotiable. Don’t think that you have to accept the first document the publisher puts before you; on the other hand, if this is your first book, then you may not have much power to drive the bargain you want. Nevertheless, you can negotiate, so do it.

A publishing contract covers many areas:

  • Who the contract is between, typically yourself and a publishing house, but if you use an agent then the agent’s name will be inserted in there as the person who gets all the monies initially (the agent then extracts his or her commission, and sends the rest on to you).
  • The title(s) that the contract covers
  • When publication of the title(s) is expected (this often changes during the editorial process).
  • When delivery of the title(s) is expected.
  • How much, and in what form, the advance covers.
    – What is an advance? When a publisher accepts a title for publication they work out how many copies they are likely to sell. They then decide how much of your royalty (see below) they decide to pay you up front (anywhere from about 30% to 100%). For instance, if the publisher estimates they can sell 10,000 of the title for $10 a copy, and the author will receive a 10% royalty on each of those books ($1 per book), and, being generous, the publisher decides to give you $10,000 as an advance. This $10,000 is unlikely to be paid in one lump sum; rather, there will be a percentage of that $10,000 paid on signing the contract (perhaps one half: $5,000), another 25% on delivery of the manuscript ($2,500) and the final 25% on publication. Thus the payment of an advance is generally paid out over at least a year. If an author sells a series of books as one title (a trilogy, for example) they will receive an advance covering all the books of the series, but this advance will be paid out over the number of years it takes to publish the series. Thus you sometimes hear of authors who get a magnificent advance for a 10 book series … what most people don’t realise that the advance will be spread out over at least 10 years, and in fact only represents a fairly modest income p.a.
  • The royalty you receive. Royalty rates are, unfortunately, slipping. Once you could confidently assume that an author received an average royalty rate of 10%. Now that can be as low as 6%. On the other hand, the contract will also generally specify something called rising royalties (and if it doesn’t, then it should). Rising royalties basically give you a higher royalty once a certain number of books have been sold. For instance, you might start out on 10% royalty, but once 25,000 books have been sold, you might then go onto a royalty rate of 12.5%
  • The territories the contract covers. VERY few authors sell world rights to their titles. Generally, you sign country by country. Thus there will be separate contracts for US rights, UK rights, German translation rights, French translation rights etc. etc. etc. These other countries don’t automatically fall in line – you must sell your work to publishers in every country. Getting your book published in one country is no guarantee that it will be published anywhere else.
  • The rights the contract covers. If you are selling to a book publisher you should sell (or lease, because these contracts cover the lease of rights rather than the actual sale of them) the print rights only. Publishers sometimes try to take the electronic rights, film rights, radio rights, graphic novel rights (and whatever other rights they can think of) as well. Don’t. Sell off your various rights one by one, don’t give one organisation exclusive control.
  • Sundry incidentals … are you using quotes or photographs in your book that are copyrighted to someone else? If so, it will probably be up to you to gain permission to use the material, as also to pay whatever fees that permission includes. You must vow faithfully and cross your heart that all the material in your book is of your own authorship (unless otherwise stated and paid for). The cover art of the book is sometimes mentioned … generally along the lines that the author has no say in cover art at all (although, in practice, you generally do have a say). You will also have to agree to make yourself available (as your work commitments allow) for publicity purposes on the release of the book.

There are a number of other things that crop up in contracts – how many free copies of the book you are entitled to, for instance – but the above lists the main clauses.

Either the publisher or the author can extract themselves from a contract, but it takes a serious breach of contract to do that … although sometimes there is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and both parties mutually agree that they have no interest in doing business with each other and all rights are handed back to the author.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

How to Create the Fantasy World

This page is based on a workshop I gave on building the fantasy landscape. I’d like to discuss briefly several things;

  • What is it that makes the fantasy world?
  • Some do’s and don’ts.
  • The fantasy landscape and natural world
  • Races, societies, and creatures
  • Religions and Magics
  • Some writing techniques and considerations for the fantasy author

Today’s fantasy market is expanding at great rate, and rather than have me repeat what I think the reasons for this are, read my paper on creating the modern romance epic.

Basically, this page is not so much a ‘how to’, but is merely intended to make you think about the kind of world you want to create.

What are some of the ingredients of a fantasy novel and world?

Science fiction can be set in this world, but fantasy is usually set in a different world, or in a pre-modern world. Why?

  • Neither magic nor adventuring quests can be believably set in a modern, logical and scientific world (while science fiction can). We cannot believe in fantasy or magic in our scientific world — we’re not allowed to, therefore to be believable (for the reader to be able to suspend disbelief) we must set a fantasy novel in a new world (or in our past, pre-scientific world). Again, I discusss this in more detail in creating the modern romance epic.

The Fantasy World: must be pre-scientific and pre-technological. a world where magic can be believable … but how different does the fantasy author dare to be?

  • Basically, not very different at all. The fantasy world must be our world only slightly altered, and the differences must be so small as to be hardly discernible : Why?
    – readers must be able to easily suspend disbelief, and that is easier in a virtual clone of our world
    – readers yearn for the magical and the enchanted in our world; it is easier to satisfy that yearning if the fantasy world is as close as possible to our world. Readers want to be able to relate to the fantasy world, they want to be able to place themselves within it, thus is must be as much like ours as possible (that way that can almost believe that our world might be like the fantasy world).
    – Readers don’t want the gap to be very wide at all, they want to be able to step across the instant they take up the book. The most successful fantasy books are those where the fantasy world is our world in all but name. For example:
    – Tad Williams, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn
      – Raymond Feist Riftwar Saga
    Both of these authors also used medieval history and legends as the base for their plots (always a good ploy!).

Before I get down to the elements of the Fantasy World I’d just like to discuss what’s in and what’s out — what has been overdone and what can still be used and developed.

You must be careful in fantasy writing not to:

  • be racist (the bad guys are very, very bad, and the good guys are wonderful and charming). It’s often been pointed out that fantasy books can foster racism, simply because of the stark contrast between the good races and the bad races, where the bad races are always unredeemable.
  • be paternalistic and sexist, esp with treatment of female characters. Modern publishers are desperate for books with strong female characters, as are the public. Don’t just have your female characters be gorgeous princesses on the side who weep and wail and wait for the golden hero to save them. Try to avoid sexist constructs in the fantasy novel — they’re too easy to fall into simply because of the ‘medieval’ non-tech world you throw them into. It is a fine line to tread and you must be careful.
  • be Tolkien-ish. Tolkien is out (for new authors): dragons are out, as are elves, fairies, gnomes, goblins etc. Avoid everything that has been overused before (and often used very badly). Too many authors try to be like Tolkien, but the market, as publishers, basically don’t want another Tolkien-imitation. I think we must all be heartily sick of those blurbs on the back of books that warble: The next Tolkien!
  • gratuitous violence is out, unless it fits in with a character
  • Something else to be careful of is unthinking use of the fantasy formula: Dark evil lord from snow-bound north against golden hero from sunny south, evil wizards, etc. Use it, but be original with it.

So what’s in?

  • grit is in, realism is in, the blurring of lines between good and evil is in, strong female characters are in, flawed heroes are in, sympathetic bad guys are in.
Creating the fantasy world

The Landscape. The landscape is vital as it dictates social structure and religion. This section also addresses how large (or detailed) the landscape should be for the size of the project (a trilogy demands a much larger landscape than a stand alone volume or a short story).

Where do you start? Draw a map! It is invariably the first thing I do when creating an entirely new world (or even when I place a tale within our world). If you can visualise your world, everything becomes so much easier.

How vast should your world, or map, be? H ow large and varied your landscape needs to be depends on how large and varied your plot will be:

  • the more features, the more creatures, races, societies, religions you will be able to have.
  • on the other hand, there is no point for either yourself or your reader if you have a very complex landscape for a minimalist plot (e.g my stand alone book Threshold) with little or no journeying about, few places mentioned, and where the action mainly stays in one spot or in one plot.

The natural world: together with the landscape, the seasons (weather, climate) will profoundly affect the peoples and story the author creates. Will your world have two moons, or just one? Will there be four months or twelve? What are the names of the months? Will you have northern hemisphere seasons, or southern? While all of this can be fun, if you’re not going to have a plot that actively uses the landscape (i.e. have characters out and about) then you may not need to much of this.

On the other hand … seasons and the natural world affect the type of society as well the type of religion your world will have.; more of this below.

Races, Societies and Creatures: some things to think about.

The creatures: how extensive (and how varied) a bestiary should you have? The animal (as vegetable life, for that matter) must suit the landscape.

Dragons might be out, but you can do a great deal with, for instance, creatures from classica mythl or medieval bestiary.

The races: how many different races, and just how different? There’s little point in having a huge variety of races if neither landscape nor plot will support them. The tension within the book can come just as much from a clash between individuals or groups within the same society or race as much as between races. Be careful, as I mentioned above, not to get too carried away with race versus race in sheer black and white terms.

The society: Typically a pre-modern society must be primarily agricultural, non-educated, relatively poor (cashless economy) with a social and a religious aristocracy who control all power (economic, political, social and cultural) within the society. There must be a significant population o ‘have-nots’, for it is from the have-nots that the hero (or the hero’s motivation) will emerge.

The nitty-gritty of life: how do people live in a pre-scientific world? How do they eat, work and construct their homes? How long does it take them to travel by foot, horse or barge? How far can a laden horse go in one day, anyway? Health, diet, utensils and so forth must always reflect the non-technological and scientific world in which that characters live.

Culture, particularly myths: Every culture and society is deeply affected by their myths, so the fantasy author must develop a rich mythological background for their world (and each race will have a different background) without overburdening their readers with boring and unnecessary details.

Religion, Magic and Language: The religion is as important as the social structures, perhaps more so. Pre-modern and pre-scientific worlds are supernatural worlds, that is, the supernatural is used to explain the world and to get things done in the same way that science explains and achieves for us. Religion is affected by many things: the landscape, the variety of races populating the worlds, as their needs and lifestyles (the kind of religion a desert-based and trading people would vary significantly from that of a forest-dwelling, hunter and gatherer race), and the ‘negatives’ of the particular world (those things which are perceived as evil or as uncontrollable).

You must also think about the accoutrements of religion – the festivals, mysteries, and services rendered etc. – as well as what type of priesthood you have for your religion, the hierarchy of the priesthood, and how much power within the society the priesthood has. Does this priestly power generate conflict? Or does it impart such comfort that the society could not function effectively without it?

The system of magic. Fantasy worlds are magical worlds, and generally have systems of magic that, as with the supernatural, are used as a means of getting things done. ‘Magic’ is as structured as religion, and it must reflect the landscape, society and religion within which it exists. What are you going to call your magicians? How is the magic accomplished? What is its power source? Are your magicians part of the priesthood, or separate from it (and perhaps even in conflict with the priesthood)?

Language. What words do people use? How do people count? Or swear? For example, most profanities are based around religious concepts, so the language (or the words the characters use) must reflect the world that has been created for them. As as example, you can’t have characters in a different world going around swearing “by Christ” or “By the Devil!” , and you must even think about such common (and, we think, free of religious connotation) words such as bloody – which is merely a corruption of “By the Lady Mary!” (The Virgin Mary). The religion and gods you create will dictate your profanities.

The fantasy formula: how to use it to your best advantage

Depicting the conflict between good and evil: this is one of the fantasy favourites that is hard to get away from, and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t see why there’s any need to. But, again as I’ve said above, be careful not to make this too black and white, be ‘grey’ in your depiction of who is good and who bad … and play about a bit with your depiction of ‘evil’. It’s one of the things that I love to play with, and it is something that I like to make my reader think about – what is good, and what evil? One of the things I do in books is to turn the concept of ‘evil’ on its head; after all, perception of evil is only what your culture teaches you is evil … what if evil is the best way out? The best way forward?

Using the ‘self-discovery’ concept (the lead characters are not who they first believe themselves to be) . This is also one of things that occurs a great deal in fantasy – and again I don’t think there’s any need to try and escape it. After all, the character who knows exactly who he or she is, is the most boring character in the book. One of the reasons why this ‘fantasy trope’ is so popular is because we all long to believe there’s something ‘other’ within ourselves, and as readers we go on our own journey of self-discovery and growth as we read about the character’s self discovery (the physical quest, the journey, should only be the physical means by which the characters confront the ‘other’ within themselves, and discover their true selves).

Undoubtedly the typical fantasy novel (especially if it is part of a series) has masses of characters. How many should you have? Enough to keep the major plot, as well several subplots (if you need them) going for however many books it takes to get the story told. How many main characters? It’s up to you, but for a trilogy I generally have between 6 to 8, and anywhere between 25-40 minor characters (not counting one-liner bit parts!).

Naming your characters, and developing a coherent naming system, can often be difficult (it’s not something I achieved with all that much success in the early Tencendor books!). Whenever I start a new world now, I go to one reference book for the culture that I’m basing my world on (for instance, one of my favourites is The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible) and take the names from that, or at least develop them from that.

If you have a number of characters in order, especially if they’re involved in a number of plots, can be really difficult. Every writer develops their own methods … but I often have massive wall charts showing me where various characters are in time and space and plots. Messy, but it works.

How to use (and curb!) your imagination. Imagination is better used with restraint than with abandon. Fantasy relies very much in being able to maintain your reader’s suspension of disbelief. If you get too carried away then you risk your reader suddenly deciding the entire story is utterly unbelievable and putting the book down in disgust. Again, I believe the ‘new’ fantasy world must be as much like ours as possible – that keeps the reader’s suspension of disbelief healthy – but that’s only a personal view.

How to use your reader’s imagination. Read the page I have on this.

How to show and not tell. This is part of learning how to make the reader work, and is also a somewhat difficult task. It is too easy for an author to patronise the reader by telling them what is going on, or what a character is like, rather than showing them. Actions are more important than words. If one of your characters is a bigoted, hot-tempered idiot, then don’t patronise the reader by writing “John walked in. He was a bigoted, hot-tempered idiot.” Instead, show the reader why kind of guy John is by using his behaviour to make the reader realise the guy’s not very likeable.

How to present background information

Most novels begin ‘part-way’ through a story … what I mean by that is that there is almost always some background information that the reader must be informed of (some past incident or history that affects the current story, some events in a character’s past that does the same). But how to do this? Again, I don’t think there’s any need to spell it all out in one or two scenes (young and naive character meets up with older and more worldly character who spend 76 pages telling him exactly why King Fred is at war with Wizard Emily). That is also patronising the reader. We can learn gradually as the story unfolds of the long and torrid history of the relationship between King Fred and Wizard Emily.

I hope this has given you some ideas, as food for thought, in your own quest to construct the fantasy world!

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Some General Advice on Writing

So, what do you do first? Well, if you want to write, then, dammit, write! Start with something achievable, perhaps a short story, and start with a genre and a subject that you’re familiar with. Don’t write science fiction if you’ve only ever read one science fiction story in your life. Don’t write romance because you somewhat depreciatingly think it’s easy. Pick a genre and a subject you:

  • admire;
  • know something (preferably a great deal of something) about;
  • feel a real enthusiasm for.

In the early 1990s I stupidly thought I’d make a killing writing light romance. Easy, I thought. No matter that I thought light romance was stuff for fools. No matter that I hadn’t read a light romance since I was fourteen. What happened? I failed miserably. It was bloody hard. I wrote some three novels in the light romance vein, and they are all laughable. That’s not the genre’s fault, it’s mine. Light romance is as difficult or as easy to write as adventure or science fiction; what makes the difference is the author’s attitude and experience, and I failed on both counts.

So don’t pick something because you think it will be easy. Pick something because you like it and are familiar with it.

You must accept that most of what you first write won’t be any good (this is the hardest thing to accept). Perhaps most of what you write for months or even years won’t be much good. That’s okay. The important thing is that you are writing, and you are learning as you go. You will become more familiar and more comfortable with the pacing of plots, with the intricacies of dialogue and with the development of characters the more you do it. I wrote close to six or seven novels, all of which are unpublishable, before I had learned enough to write something that was publishable (although I also completely changed the genre I was writing in as well, and that helped). Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I needed the experience of those novels behind me to eventually write something that worked … and that I could sell.

Short stories I can give no advice on at all, because I’ve only just begun to write short stories. I cut my teeth on novel writing, so that’s what I’ll concentrate on here.

Establishing a Discipline of Writing

Writing must be one of the most disciplined professions on earth: it has to be, because without discipline nothing will ever get done. As I explain on my page on discipline in the bath (you have to read that page to understand the title!), I find writing very hard, and literally have to force myself to do it. Getting that first draft down is very, very difficult. Personally I find that the only way I can write is to discipline myself into a routine, and I think most writers have their own discipline and routine. You have to find your own routine, but once you find one that works for you, then you have to discipline yourself to keep to it, and not to waver and wander. If you set aside Saturday to write, then write on Saturday, don’t keep running out to do the shopping, or going off for a few hours to watch the kids’ football. If you set aside one day a week to write, then be totally selfish – that is your day to write, and nothing comes between you and your writing.

You not only have to be disciplined in setting aside time (and then being selfish enough to insist on keeping that time to yourself and your writing), but you must be disciplined in ensuring you are constantly moving forward in your writing. Don’t waste yourself in constant revising and rewriting until you have a first draft done. As I mention elsewhere, I’ve watched friends constantly revise the first half of a novel for year after year, and they won’t accept that they will never finish that novel. I’ve been in the same position. You write a bit, then you succumb to the temptation to go back and revise it. Just a bit. It won’t take long.

A decade later (I jest not) you realise you’ve squandered every chance you may ever have had to actually write a book. All you have is ten years’ worth of revisions to the first three chapters (or whatever).

MOVE FORWARD. PUT THOSE DAMN WORDS DOWN ON PAPER. Write, and keep writing until an entire draft is done. Then you can (and, indeed, you must) revise it. Steeling yourself to constantly move forward is something you must do.

The First Novel

The hardest lesson to learn is that your first novel will undoubtedly be dreadful. You must be prepared to let your first novel go. Face the fact that one day you’re going to have to turn off the life support systems.

This is hard. Planning, writing and completing a novel is an achievement in itself, and the first-time novelist is generally so emotionally attached to his or her creation they are incapable of seeing it with objective eyes. I have a friend who has been reworking her first novel for the past 7 years … she won’t let go, she won’t accept that she must move on, and she can’t see that she has virtually ruined any chance she has of ever succeeding in actually completing a publishable work. No-one amateur painter expects his or her first work to be a masterpiece (and keep reworking the same canvas for year after year) … so why do amateur writers?

Some 98% of manuscripts are rejected by publishers. My guess is that the majority of those are first-time novels whose authors have no idea, or who can’t accept, how bad they are.

It took me some five years to realise that my first novel was so bad it would never be published. Its worth lay not in whether it would or would not be published, but in what it taught me. Once I accepted the fact that it would be easier (and better) to start a new project than continue to try to resuscitate the First Novel, I took the first great big step towards success.

The second attempt at a novel was easier to let go – and that made it easier for me to view it objectively and learn from its mistakes.

By the third novel I knew what I was doing, and I think by that stage I’d accepted that I was in a learning mode rather than in a ‘get-rich-and-famous-quick’ mode. I think I typed in the final fullstop, then closed the file without a single emotional twinge, and instantly began work on the fourth novel.

I was on a roll. I’d managed to remove myself enough from my writing to be able to view it objectively, to recognise instantly when something wasn’t working, and by this stage I had enough experience to know what to do to correct it.

I was still writing romance, but I knew that this genre was not for me. The excitement was building, because I knew I was close to a breakthrough.

The Breakthrough

The breakthrough for me was finding the perfect genre for my style of writing and for the peculiar and often dark shape of my mind. Fantasy. I’ve read a fair bit of it over the years, but it’s certainly not my favourite genre (what is my favourite? Military adventure fantasy – Tom Clancy, for example, or mystery and crime). The day I thought, “Why not try fantasy?” it felt so right that I instinctively knew this was going to be my best chance at success.

From the moment I wrote the first chapter of BattleAxe I thought it had a really good chance … my practice runs gave me the experience I needed to recognise saleable worth when I wrote it.

But there was something else about BattleAxe that made it different. This one I wrote almost exclusively for myself, whereas all the other novels I did with an ‘audience’ in mind. BattleAxe I LOVED writing. I lived that book, and it lived for me. Consequently it lives for most (not all, she grins, remembering the odd review) of my readers. So if it works for you, then it may well work for others … but again, you’ve got to balance involvement with objectivity.

What To Do With It Now?

So you’ve finished the piece that you think may see you through into book signings and pleasant conversations with your bank manager. What to do with it now?

First, take a deep breath, put it in a drawer, and forget about it for about two, or even six, months. Then take it out, view it with a fresh eye, and revise it ferociously. Make yourself see all the bits that don’t work, and force yourself to change them. Authors always find it hard to change a single word of their masterpiece, but, believe me, masterpieces can always be improved (if you can’t find much wrong with your manuscript, then it’s probably so awful it should be burnt). The more improved your manuscript is, and the more professional (and professionally presented) it is, the greater chance you will have of being published. It’s a hectic world out there, peopled by agents and editors who are overworked and underpaid, and the first thing that catches their eyes is professionalism. They don’t have time for anything but.

If you want some more hints of constructing prose, then you have a look at How to Write the Perfect History Essay, something I wrote for my university students way back when. Although it concentrates on academic writing, what it says about organisation and clarity of prose goes for whatever kind of writing you are engaged in.

You can also have a look at the many books available on the market on how to write.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Using your Reader’s Imagination

There are many different skills a writer learns during his or her apprenticeship, but one that is rarely discussed is the skill of using the reader’s imagination. The best books around are those that make their readers work – and readers love these books, although they don’t consciously realise what it is about the book that makes it so attractive.

What do I mean?

Well, there’s the obvious way in which a reader tries to work out a mystery in a plot – who murdered the butler out of a scullery full of suspects, for instance. But there is a far more subtle way good authors manage to make use of their readers’ imagination.

All of us have imaginations (no matter how many people claim they don’t). We’re human, we think, we imagine. More particularly, our imaginations embellish the bare facts set before us.

If I say to you, “The woman walked into the kitchen”, what do you see in your mind’s eye? Just a woman walking into a kitchen? No, your imagination takes that simple statement and embellishes it. You ‘see’ a kitchen – that is, knowing what a kitchen usually contains you place within this kitchen the tile floor, the sink, the stove, the fridge etc. You probably also give the woman an appearance – whatever appearance you associate with women in kitchens (a middle-aged woman wearing an apron? Whatever …). You are literally incapable of not embellishing that statement.

Thus when someone reads, their imagination is constantly at work, embellishing every phrase they read. A good author (in the same way as a good film maker) uses this to their advantage. A bad writer is one who constantly describes, or who constantly tells the reader what they should see in that kitchen. For example:

  • The middle-aged woman, of a dumpy build, her greying, oily brown hair in curlers, a dirty and ragged apron wrapped about her waist, sensible but thin-soled shoes on her feet and a resigned expression on her lined and tired face, walked into the kitchen which had a stove in the northern corner, a fridge in the southern corner, a white and brown-tiled floor, a strange dove mobile hanging from the central flourescent light which flickered on and off, on and off, on and off, paint peeling from the walls, a table covered with a faded green and cream checked tablecloth and cracked crockery set out with stained stainless steel cutlery to its side.

That’s too much! Far better to say, “The dowdy woman walked into her drab kitchen”, and the reader’s imagination will supply the rest! You know the paragraph above is bad – it is boring to read, but it also insults you by giving you too much information. Give your reader prompts, but don’t explain it to them as if they were five-year-old children (who, if truth be told, don’t need to have things spelt out for them either!). The boring description is not only insulting, it slows down the pace of the plot, and as any good editor will tell you, “Pace! Pace! Pace!”

So the good author gives their reader prompts, or hints, but forces their readers to work things out for themselves. The reader rarely realises this is going on, but they really enjoy the book, because they are so involved in it.

I’ll give you two of the best examples I’ve ever found in fantasy or science-fiction books.

  1. Simon Brown in Privateer. Simon’s aliens are reptilian in appearance – but he doesn’t actually tell the reader this until fairly late in the book, and by this time the reader has worked it out for themselves from the subtle hints Simon places throughout the text (“his feet clicked across the floor”; human feet rarely ‘click’, so there’s something different about these feet … perhaps they have long nails, or claws …).
  2. Robin Hobe in the first book of Assassin’s Apprentice. Robin never told you the exact nature of the lead character’s magical ability, you had to work it out for yourself. It was brilliantly done.

One more thing that flows on from this, and this is something that I learned from my first editor, Louise Thurtell, is that you rarely have to use ten thousand adjectives to describe dialogue: the dialogue itself should explain how it is being said, and how characters react to it, rather than the use of patronising adjectival tags. Characters say, they do not shout, expostulate, grumble, laugh, murmur and so forth. If the dialogue doesn’t make plain what a character is feeling, or how a character reacts, or even the manner of their speech, then the dialogue is very, very poor.

Your readers have active, intelligent imaginations. Make them use them. They will literally love you for it. Sometimes a reader comes up to me and tells me that reading my books is like watching a movie, and a recent review said that “the Douglass brand of fantasy is intensely cinematic”. Why? Because I consciously use prompts that propel the reader’s imagination to create their own vast landscapes: I don’t describe in detail, I don’t have to, because I make use of my reader’s imagination.

This explains the saying that there is a different book for every reader that takes it up. Whatever I write, as whatever every other writer writes, takes on a different meaning for every different person who picks up the book. There is not one land of Tencendor – there are half a million different lands of Tencendor.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

How to Approach a Publisher

Now that you’ve got a manuscript that, with all your writing experience, you think may have a halfway decent chance of being accepted, how is the best way to approach an agent or publisher? (You might like to read my page on To Agent or Not? and More about Agents as well.)

There is one major rule in approaching publishers: BE PROFESSIONAL. If you think that’s a pretty obvious statement, then you’d be appalled at the number of aspiring authors who are totally unprofessional, or who even approach publishers as if they are doing the publisher a great favour. I have seen some horrifying examples of complete unprofessionalism: death threats sent to editors, agents and even me (how dare I be successful when X out there knows his rejected manuscript is much better than mine?), bizarre threats of retribution from God sent to agents or editors on the receipt of a rejection letter … if you want to be a professional author, then you’ve simply got to leave the hysteria behind you if for no other reason than the recipients of these threatening letters and emails generally share them around colleagues in the publishing industry. Threaten one individual, and word gets out. Don’t do it. Everyone is rejected (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told my work would never sell), and you must learn to deal with it and move forward. So…

How to Give a Decent Impression of Professionalism

Whatever you do, do not send your entire manuscript off to a publisher (or, shudder, five or six of them at once) without first sending a letter of inquiry. Getting accepted takes time, and you’re not going to do it in one month, or even three. Think six to eight months … if you’re lucky. I’d finished BattleAxe in April of one year at the latest … and it took until September to be accepted by an agent, until November to be accepted by a publisher, and contracts were not signed until December, no cash until January of the following year … and I was fairly zoomed through the system. Often it takes years to get a sale on a book.

Be patient.

There are two ways to approach a publisher. By yourself, or through an agent.

Approaching Publishers Personally

I’ll talk you through the personal approach first.

Do some research. Find out which publishers are publishing in your field. It’s beyond useless to send a letter, or the manuscript, off blind to a publisher only because you vaguely know their name.

Also take the time to find out the publisher’s submission guidelines. Now that most of the major publishers have a presence on the web they often put their submission guidelines on their websites, so read them before you send anything in.

Once you’ve found a publisher, or two or three, who are currently publishing in your genre (if you can find a publisher who is actively searching for manuscripts, i.e., they’ve just started a line up, then you’ll have a better chance), send in a letter of inquiry to the editor (please, please type it … see below re presentation). Briefly tell them something about yourself (editors are going to be as interested in you as your manuscript; if they accept your manuscript they are, after all, going to have to work with you), what experience you have in writing and publishing (if you’ve not had anything published yet, that’s okay), and give them a brief synopsis of your book. A page, maybe two. No more. No one has time to read a twenty-page synopsis. Your letter and synopsis has got to catch an editor’s eye in under two minutes, so don’t waste this chance in waffle, and whatever else you do, don’t try to be cute in an effort to catch their attention — people who try to make themselves out to be the most witty or mysterious people on earth (hoping thereby the publisher will take up their manuscript) only succeed in making themselves look silly.

It’s fine to send letters and synopses to several publishers at once, but if more than one writes back and to say they’d like to see several chapters, then send the chapters to one publisher only (again, see below for presentation). These people share gossip, phone calls, lunches … they’re going to find out if you send it to two or more … and you will be dropped so fast by all of them it will take you ten years to recover the lost ground. So if more than one wants to see a sample of the book, then send it to whoever you think will be your best bet, and send the others letters telling them what’s going on. It won’t damage your chances at all; in fact, it will increase your aura of professionalism. If the first doesn’t want it, then you’re still going to have a good chance with the others. (The first Australian publisher to read BattleAxe rejected it as unpublishable …. so editors do make misjudgments, and if one rejects it, it doesn’t mean that the next won’t welcome you with open arms, an unstopped bottle of sherry, and a fat cheque.)

Okay, several chapters have gone off to an editor, it looks promising. Now you wait. And wait. Sometimes you will wait several months. Give the publisher two months … then write a friendly letter asking what’s happening (don’t think to be clever and say there’s someone else who wants it … the editor is just as likely to respond with, “Oh? Well, let them have it, then”). After three months you’re perfectly within your rights to send the manuscript somewhere else. A publisher should be professional as well, and if they’ve said they want to read a manuscript, then they should manage to do so within a month or so at the outside.

Above all, and I’ll keep saying this until I’m blue in the face … be patient. I have a theory that editors sometimes linger over reading not only because they’re busy (which they are), but because they’re also testing you. If you bother them with constant calls and letters asking when they’re going to make up their mind, then chances are you won’t be accepted. Editors like to know that the authors they’ll be working closely with are sane. Believe me here. If you irritate them, or insult them, you’ve blown your chance. Not only with the one publisher, but if you’ve acted badly enough, with the entire industry. Be patient. Take to drink, eat chocolate bars until you’re twice the size you used to be, but leave the editors alone for a decent period.

And don’t get despondent at the first rejection. In fact, get used to them. Everyone gets rejected more often than they get accepted. Deal with it. Learn from it. Listen to any constructive criticism that comes your way. If you’re really serious about writing, then rejection is going to become a way of life for you.

Unfortunately many would-be authors are unable to accept criticism or rejection. Please do not become one of those who resort to abuse, or even death threats, to overcome their disappointment. Accept it. Shrug your shoulders. Learn from it. Try again. Remember, every one of the famous literary names alive has been told at one time or the other by a publishing house that they might as well give up the writing game and go earn a living waiting tables. But these famous literary names hung in there, learned, and … well … are now famous literary names.

Using an Agent

According to the Australian Society of Authors, more and more Australian publishers (as publishers around the world) are refusing to accept manuscripts, or even consider them, unless they come via an agent. This is almost entirely due to the fact that editors are increasingly unable to deal with the thousands of manuscripts that are sent to them each year. Literary agents act as a buffer for the publishing industry. If something is submitted via an agent then the editor can be reasonably sure that both it and the author been vetted and are not completely unworkable. Publishers trust agents in a manner they will never trust the general public. (Also read my pages To Agent or Not? and More about Agents)

My advice on approaching an agent runs along much the same lines as approaching a publisher. First of all, find out what literary agents there are, and what type of genres they prefer to handle (it’s no use sending a popular fiction ms to an agent who deals only in literary works). In whatever country you live in there is usually an association of writers or authors who can help you with a list of agents (or, do as I did, and check the Yellow Pages! However, before you grab the phone book, be warned that some agencies don’t list in phone books and you’ll get a more comprehensive listing from writers’ organizations). In Australia you can write to the Australian Society of Authors who should be able to give you some idea of what agents there are, who has their books closed, and who takes what for a minimal price. The address is:
98 Pitt Street,
Redfern, NSW, 2016.
Phone (02) 318 0877

When approaching an agent, send a letter of inquiry and synopsis first, enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope. If the agent wants to read your work then they’ll discuss prices etc. at that point. But an agent shouldn’t charge the earth to read your work unless they’re going to offer a written criticism of it. Agents will take some time to read your manuscript. They’ll read it first, then they may well send it out to someone else to read and comment on. This may take months. So, be patient. Remember what I said above about not annoying or abusing editors … the same applies to agents. Agents will be as interested in you (and your reactions) as your manuscripts. They will never take on someone they don’t like or don’t trust. Remember, they’ve got prospective authors (almost literally) camping on their doorsteps. They can pick and choose.

If an agent does take you on, then you’ve got a real chance, and your agent is going to be in a good position to get you the best possible terms on your contract. I don’t begrudge the slice of my income that goes to my agent. Without her, there would be no income at all.

Presentation

The best way to create an instantly favourable impression with either publisher or agent is with a professionally presented manuscript. Typed, or preferably word processed. Never handwritten. The manuscript should have a minimum of handwritten corrections (if there’s a large number of them, then print it again, but you can get away with a few). The manuscript should be presented on A4 paper, one side only, with 4 cm margins (at least). The text should be double-spaced, and the font and ink should be sharp and clear (don’t get cute and use a ‘cute’ font; be professional!). Each page should be numbered, and it’s a good idea to put your name at the top right-hand corner of each page. Pages should be loose, not bound. Keep a copy yourself, or at least make sure that you have it on disk (or on several disks, all stored in different places!).

Well, I’ve run out of helpful hints. I wish you luck. But remember, practice, patience and professionalism will always give your work the best possible chance.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

A Book’s Life

One of the first and strangest things I learned as an author is that a book does not usually have a very long life. I’d always assumed that a book sat there on the shelves for countless years continuing to earn an author income over those years.

Generally speaking, not true. When you think about it, most bookshops have limited space … and they can’t, firstly, take every title published every month (thousands of titles) and, secondly, they can’t keep books on their shelves unless there’s a demand for them (i.e., unless more than three people a month buy one!). So a newly published book faces two challenges: first, to be stocked initially; second, to remain on the bookshop shelf longer than three months. In fact, most book’s lives last forabout six months … and then they basically can’t be found on bookshop shelves and they’re not earning for their author. While you may walk into a book store and see many of the same books as were there the last time you visited, and even the same books that were there last year, these books are the exceptions: for every book that lasts on the shelves, at least another hundred have faded away and died the inevitable death – they’ve been pulped.

Thus if you write, don’t write one book and expect it to feed you the rest of your life … you’ve got to keep writing books. One a year at least.

I’ve been incredibly lucky – something that took me a while to realise. All of my books are still on the shelves and still selling very well, and most of them are into their ninth or tenth reprint. That’s very unusual, and I feel very honoured that they’ve managed to hold their own … they’re good little children!

A book’s life can be extended by managing to make it onto a ‘Best-Seller List’ … but these lists are very strange creatures. Newspapers and magazines who publish best-selling lists generally only survey a very few bookshops … and what if those one or two or three shops don’t stock (or only stock a very few) of a book that might sell in its thousands in Target or Coles? In more cynical moments some people (heaven forbid that you think that I am one of them!!!) claim that the editors of the book pages in newspapers have a vested interest in seeing that their favoured books make it high on the lists … and thus ensure they survey the bookshops that stock large quantities of their favoured books. Best-selling lists can also be skewed by authors who, knowing which shops are due to be surveyed, then go out and buy up every single copy of their title, ensuring they make it to number one and then onto the talk-show fest (I don’t think this happens in Australia yet, but it is surely only a matter of time).

Bookshops, in Australia, at least, are able to return books to the publisher whenever they wish and not have to pay for them (returns are the bane of the author’s life). So what does the canny author do? Make sure they sign as many of the books in a shop as they can because then the book seller can’t send them back as returns because the book is ‘damaged property’. If you see an author at a book signing diligently sitting down and signing their way through scores if not hundreds of books, that’s why they’re doing it … those books are guaranteed ‘sales’ (if only sales because the book seller can’t return them and thus must pay for them). Some authors also trudge around to every bookshop they can make it to and sign every book of theirs in that shop – and occasionally they’re turfed out by annoyed booksellers.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

To Agent or Not?

Some authors have agents, some don’t; some people succeed with agents, some without. Whether or not you decide to go it alone or to try to get published via an agent will be entirely up to you.

It basically comes down to what you want.

First, however, what will a literary agent do for you?

A literary agent negotiates rights on your behalf (whether they be book, film, radio … whatever). He or she also scouts opportunities for you (in whatever form they may take) and often helps to organise publicity for you (although that is not normally part of his or her role). An agent, basically, acts as an adviser to you, and acts as a buffer between you and the torrid outside world of publishing. For this, the agent will take a percentage of your income (which generally ranges somewhere between 10% to 20%). You need to understand that if an agent negotiates rights on your behalf, for a percentage of all income from the sale or leasing of those rights, then the agent will continue to receive that percentage whether you are still his or her client or not. You can leave an agent whenever you wish … but that agent will continue to collect a percentage on all deals he or she has negotiated for you.

There are two alternatives to agent: yourself, or an entertainment lawyer. If you do all the negotiations yourself then you get all monies resulting from the deal; if you use a lawyer then the lawyer will generally charge a flat fee for the negotiations and you then keep all royalties that roll in.

On the face of it, it seems the better alternative is to do all the negotiations yourself (if you’re confident that you know what you are doing!), or to hire a lawyer for a flat fee. However … using a literary agent has some real positives.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be without one. I prefer to sit in my own private world of Ashcotte and let my agent (Lyn Tranter, of Australian Literary Management) do all the fretting for me. She’s always there at the end of the phone for advice, or for someone to grumble to (when, post-negotiations, a lawyer would not be). Yes, I lose a percentage of my income but a) I probably wouldn’t be where I am now without her, and b) she’s a great tax deduction! If I did the calculations comparing losing a portion of my income to paying a flat fee to an entertainment lawyer then money-wise I’d come out the same: what I would gain on using a lawyer for a flat fee I would lose in taxation. But, personally, the biggest incentive for me is not money – it is the sheer comfort I receive from having Lyn act as that all important buffer. It is also important to realise that agents can get your foot in the door far more easily than you could: an agent can get the ear of a publisher faster than anyone else.

Many other authors I know, however, prefer to do all their own negotiations (or to use a lawyer for negotiations and do all the other leg work themselves). I guess it depends on what kind of personality you have, if you enjoy the constant phoning, the constant keeping in touch yourself, or of you’d prefer someone else to do it for you.

If you do decide to try for an agent (I did not suceed until I got myself an agent), then the bad news is that agents are as overworked and overwhelmed with hopeful authors as publishers are. It is hard work to get an agent, so when approaching one remember the same golden rule that applies to approaching a publisher: BE PROFESSIONAL. Don’t be despondent if at first you don’t succeed; as with publishers, one may reject you, but the next may take you on.

In all the wonders of the past six or seven years of my publishing success, the most marvellous moment came when, out of the blue, I got a phone call from Lyn at 4.45 one Friday afternoon (I remember it so well!) saying, “Welcome aboard!”.

Suddenly, after all the lonely, silent years of effort, I was home.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Sara’s Bio: 2000 (Harper Collins)

I can’t remember learning to read, or picking up my first book. I have always read, and I have always loved books. I was born on a small farm some twenty-five miles out of Penola in South Australia. It was called Gundealga, ‘peaceful watering hole’, and its names, and its woods and deer, are remembered in The Axis Trilogy. The farm had no electricity, so I remember reading my first books by the gentle glow of kerosene lamps, hiding behind the living room couch so my parents would think me already in bed.

When I was about seven we moved to Adelaide, and somehow the household books bred in the process. Our house was stuffed with books — even the toilet lobby had bookcases, and I remember my father nonchalantly propping up a bucket to catch the drips from a leaking roof with seventeenth-century volumes that he said were so mouldy anyway they wouldn’t mind a bit of extra dampness (I was horrified. I rescued them and carefully dried them out and now they rest, splotched and blotched but still readable, on the mantelpiece above the fire in my writing room). I read night and day, anything I could get my hands on. I started writing as soon as I felt competent, about nine or ten, and produced a small novelette about the discovery of the eighth sea of the world which my teachers and parents regarded indulgently, looking over my head and nodding as if to say, “She’ll grow out of it”.

But I didn’t. I kept writing. When I was about fourteen I received second prize in a nation wide essay competition on the treatment of horses in circuses (I missed out on first, I am convinced, because my views were not politically correct). When I left school my writing ceased for some six to seven years as I got involved in the world of work during the day and, I hate to admit it, the flashing nights of discos at night. My first career was as a nurse, something my father thought fitting for a girl. I loathed it … but it took me many years to escape.

An escape finally presented itself when I applied to do a Bachelor of Arts at Adelaide University. Suddenly I found myself back in a world that encouraged creative thinking and processes. I was enthralled. I started writing again by keeping a detailed diary (great fat volumes that cover about six years and that I will burn before letting anyone else read them) and then by writing my first novel, The Judgement of Jerusalem. I was thrilled. So thrilled, I did it all wrong, sent it off cold to several publishers, and received polite rejection letters: “We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”

I wiped away my tears and resolved never to write again. And for another six or seven years that was it as far as my writing was concerned. In the meantime I found myself a new career as an academic, teaching medieval history at La Trobe University, Bendigo. This new job I found incredibly stressful, and so, just for myself, no-one else, I began to write in the evening and weekends. I loved it! Writing became for me the perfect way to relax and escape the stressful world of academia. I wrote and wrote and wrote-probably about eight or nine novels, some of which are truly awful. But I didn’t care. I was learning with each novel, and enjoying each one more. None of these are fantasy; they are adventure stories, thrillers, romances, horror. I did try to send several to Mills and Boon, but their initial rejection letters finally became stern letters imploring me to never contact them again as my writing was so ‘dark’. Well, that was no surprise, I have a very dark mind.

I never thought of writing fantasy until one day … one day when I just sat down and started writing BattleAxe. I knew almost immediately that this was going to be my best chance at getting published. I wrote virtually the entire trilogy, thought about it, and then sent BattleAxe off one day — this time to an agent, because I thought I would try to do it properly and I knew that I would have my best chance with an agent. I picked up the Melbourne Yellow Pages, and looked under agents. My face fell — there were modelling agencies, bloodstock agencies, agencies for toothbrush inventors … but where were the literary agencies? Aha! There! Just one — Australian Literary Management, picked because they had the magical word ‘literary’ in their name (and, as fate would have it, one of the only literary agencies in Australia who would even consent to read fantasy). And so off it went and here I am, all due to the intervention of a tiny iron axe that gave me the idea for BattleAxe and the help of the Melbourne Yellow Pages.

Eidolon: An Interview with Sara Douglass

betrayal-of-arthur-1999-cover

Sophie Masson interviewed Sara Douglass in 2000 for Eidolon magazine. She has graciously given us permission to reproduce her interview with Sara in full. Sophie Masson is a writer and published author based out of country NSW in Australia. More information can be found on her website at www.sophiemasson.org.


SM: The Betrayal of Arthur is a departure for you. Has it always been a project you wanted to do?

SD: No. I’ve never been a particular ‘Arthur fan’. The book came about through a series of fairly bland circumstances. Some three or so years ago I’d been approached to write a CD-ROM game on the Arthurian legend. I put lots of time and research into it, my agency put lots of time and work into it, but the deal fell through. I was left with some research and an outline on my hands. I handed the outline to my agent, Lyn Tranter, and said with some disinterest (after a year or so of negotiations on the game I was sick of the topic!) that she could do with it what she wanted: she auctioned the proposal, and Pan Macmillan put in the winning bid. So that’s how the book came about.

Personally, I had been aggravated for many years by the hype surrounding the Arthur legend and the mysticism and ‘deep meaning’ that people kept trying to attach to it-I was aware through teaching some aspects of the legend at university that people simply didn’t know what the legend meant, and why it had been constructed as it had . . . and I relished the opportunity to at least strip away all the hype and sugary gloss and New Age ridiculousness. I met some truly bizarre people while doing the ‘out and about’ part of the research . . . there are at least five down-and-out middle-aged men I’ve met in central Victoria alone who are convinced that they are the modern incarnation of Merlin and they are personally going to Save The World. They fell in love with all the hype, it made them feel important, and they have no idea that Merlin was an absolute failure as wizard, prophet and general washer-upper.

SM: How important has the Arthurian legend been in your own fiction writing?

SD: As far as I am aware it has been no influence at all. As I said, I am not a fan of the legend. Medieval history rather than popular myth has been my inspiration.

SM: You delineate very well, in your book, the different ways in which the legend has been used and interpreted through the ages. What is its most modern manifestation? And what does it represent, for modern readers?

SD: That’s an almost impossible question to answer. The most modern manifestation? I think there are two-the semi-scholarly push to prove that Arthur (in whatever form) did exist, and the New Age Arthur-a kind of a secular Christ for the disenfranchised and lost. What does the legend mean for modern readers? As you know, every book and every tale means something different to each reader. Broadly, however, perhaps the legend represents hope… I find this incredibly sad, because so many people are now feeling so disassociated from modern society and values that they cling to a myth that holds no hope and no factual truth. Possibly the legend represents a means to access our past . . . today most people of European descent are incredibly disassociated from the past (as most Europeans have been throughout history) and they need to find a vehicle to take them back to discover a cultural historical identity (to put it more simply, something they think they might be able to be proud of in their ancestry, because they find little to be proud of in contemporary society). Of course, what happens is that people simply take the bare bones of the Arthurian legend (Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot and a bit of sleeping around) and graft whatever they want on to it. So . . . like so much of history, the Arthurian legend becomes whatever it is needed to become for people to justify their own fantasies and need to be important.

SM: Why do you think the legend has had such a long and hardy life?

SD: I think I have answered that with the last sentence above! The Arthurian legend has had such a long and hardy life because a) it is a rollicking good tale of adventure and sinful sex and b) it can most beautifully be used by all and sundry to justify their own agenda-the kings of England, as I explain in the book, have used it that way for almost a thousand years, and today people continue to use it . . . the lost claim to be a reincarnation of Merlin/Arthur/Geunevere in order to make themselves feel important and to justify building up their own personal little doomsday cults (I know I’m sounding cynical . . . but the number of absolutely crazy-and dangerously crazy-people I met researching this book has left me deeply depressed about the manipulative and dangerous aspects of human nature); how strange it is that Mordred never seems to be reincarnated! Whatever, the legend has had such a long and hardy life because it lends itself to being used; it can be reinvented by every age in order to justify whatever agenda happens to be on the go at the time.

I’ve often thought that the psychological explorations in the Arthurian legend are written in the guise of adventures because they were a product of an age when life was very hard and physically demanding. In our time, when psychological forays are practically THE only adventure left to Western people, who live such soft lives, do we need even more the physical adventures of Arthur and his knights?

I doubt very, very much that many people understand the legend in terms of psychological forays. It has been my experience that people firmly close their eyes to anything but the golden facade of chivalric adventure. It is simply a tragic, romantic tale combined with a bit of magic-and that kind of thing has always been popular.

SM: Do uncertain times represent more fertile ground for the ‘return’ of King Arthur in the popular consciousness?

SD: Yes, as every other myth, cult, legend etc. Uncertain times call for ‘strong men’, someone who can save the day. I still dissolve into laughter whenever I think of people associating the concept of ‘strong man’ with Arthur-the man couldn’t boil an egg without causing a global catastrophe!

SM: You seemed to cast a distinctly cool eye on many of the characters and motifs in the Arthurian story. What’s your feeling about the whole legend now, having lived with it for so long?

SD: As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never been a particular fan of the Arthurian legend, and, quite frankly, I’d be happy if I never saw, heard, read or smelt anything about Arthur again so long as I live.

SM: What of the Celtic element of the story-popular in the twelfth century, popular again now. How was it seen then? And now? What do you think ‘Celtic’ means to people?

SD: The Celtic element of the story was popular in the twelfth century? The twelfth century didn’t know what ‘Celtic’ was! I’m not too sure what you mean by that . . . the twelfth century had no understanding or knowledge of their past . . . the only thing ‘celtic’ they knew were the bastard Welsh across the border who should be put to death as soon as possible. What does Celtic mean to people today? Something vaguely to do with lots of pretty, knotted intertwined borders and perhaps a bit of hope from a past society to save them from this one. People who are dissatisfied and disassociated from their contemporary society always seem to go back in search of a Golden Age: today many people feel that the Celtic era was a Golden Age whose ‘deep truths’ can be resurrected to put some meaning back into their own lives. It’s romanticised beyond belief and fact, but at least it keeps the New Age book market healthy.

SM: Going to fantasy-do you think fantasy fulfils a religious role in a post-Christian society such as Australia’s? What do you think of fantasy in general-is it in a healthy state-or are there too many ‘carbon copy’ fantasies?

SD: I don’t think fantasy fulfils a ‘religious’ role as such, it simply gives people a means to access a world of mysticism, magic and hope: the basic fantasy trope of Good versus Evil has been a best-seller ever since humankind first attained conscious thought, and yet our materialistic, rationalistic and scientific society doesn’t leave much room for the Good vs. Evil explanations for whatever goes bump in the night. As for what do I think of fantasy in general-I can’t answer that. I’m one of the many fantasy authors who never read in their own genre. The last fantasy novel I read right through was perhaps some seven years ago and that was only because I was stuck in the bed with the flu and the only book within reach was one of Robin Hobb’s that a friend had left on the nightstand. I don’t even actually classify myself as a ‘fantasy’ writer. I write, and editors and publishers and readers classify me as fantasy. I was mildly surprised when HarperCollins, when they first picked me up, thrust me firmly into fantasy. Recently I’ve been offered a deal by Tor in the USA, and one of the things that I love about the offer is that they want to promote me in the general book market as much as in fantasy.

SM: Why is the medieval so often the template of fantasy? As a medievalist yourself, are you impressed or annoyed by the representation of an imagined Middle Ages in fantasy?

SD: Again, I can only answer the first half of this question, and only as it relates to myself. I use the medieval world because I am a medieval historian and I know my way around the medieval world and mind very well. I think, generally (and, yes, I know Terry Pratchett will disagree vehemently with this!), the reason why the medieval world is used as a template is because the magical is not allowed to exist within a scientific society . . . and science began to extend its grip on western society from the 1600s onwards. Our ‘collective western mind’ has been taught over and over (since the days of the fairy stories we were told as children) that the magical can exist only in a pre-modern world.

SM: What’s next for Sara Douglass?

SD: Too much. Currently I am doing a major rebuild of my web site (and in fact going to a new web site: www.saradouglass.com no less!), building a company, and trying to find enough time to write my next trilogy set in fourteenth century Europe. (Called The Crucible, the first book The Nameless Day will be available in May 2000 . . . there, I’ve done my self-promotion bit!)


©2000 Sophie Masson / Eidolon. You can read the original interview on the Eidolon website here.

Sara’s Bio: 2000 (MUP)

sara-2000-bioThis is an updated biography taken from The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Sara Douglass is the pseudonym of Sara (Mary) Warneke (1957 – ). Warneke was born in Penola, South Australia, of a farming family, but was mostly raised in Adelaide. She was educated at Methodist Ladies College (now Annesley College), and matriculated in 1974. She entered nursing school at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, graduating in 1978 as a registered nurse, and in 1982 began a BA degree at the University of Adelaide. In 1986 she obtained an Honours Degree (majoring in history), and in 1987, having been awarded a Commonwealth postgraduate scholarship, began a PhD in the Department of History. In 1988 she bcame a tutor and research officer in history at the University of Adelaide and worked there until late 1991. She was awarded her doctorate in 1991.

Warneke says she owes most of her writing skills to her time at Adelaide University; her ten years spent there were the most formative period of her life and her ‘spiritual home remains the University of Adelaide Club’. In 1992 she obtained a position as senior lecturer in Medieval European history at La Trobe University, Bendigo; in 1999 she left academia to concentrate on her garden and writing.

Currently Sara lives in Bendigo, in the state of Victoria, Australia.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises