For the first time ever, Angry Robot opened its doors to independent submissions. New Zealand based Paul Mannering – along with thousands of other hopeful writers – submitted the first five chapters of his SF/Zombie-horror manuscript Tankbread.
A long-time member of Vision, Paul has since been asked to submit the whole MS.
Today he talks about the journey up to this point.
As a writer I always thought that the worst thing in the world was a rejection letter from an editor. Now I realise that the rejections are nothing. It’s the responses that give you a reason to hope that will kill you inside.
In the first weekend of June I got a response from Angry Robot Books requesting the full manuscript for my novel Tankbread because they liked what they had read of my submitted sample. Less than 48 hours later I won a SFFANZ Sir Julius Vogel Award for Brokensea’s third season of Doctor Who audio dramas.
My immediate reaction to this second Cool Things That Sometimes Happen To Writers was to find perspective in the wisdom of Douglas Adams: “No one likes a smart arse”.
These days it feels like the chances of being published by a real international publishing house are on par with dying in a plane crash. And then being eaten by a Uruguayan rugby team. So I’m not planning any book-tour destinations yet.
As David Byrne and Talking Heads once asked, “How did I get here?”
Tankbread came to me in as a complete concept one day while walking home from work. I saw the opening scene, and heard the opening lines in my head. The post-apocalyptic diner. The cooked dog on a plate. The Asian across the table tearing chunks out of the girl’s neck.
From there I fleshed out the first act. The story progressed slowly as I took breaks to write other things, short stories and audio dramas.
The Sir Julius Vogel award winning 3rd season of BrokenSea’s Doctor Who was written in a frenzy of creativity and stress after the main script writer for our previous two seasons quit after delaying us for months. We had very little time to put something together and I work best under pressure.
The first three chapters of Tankbread were written in two drafts. I hate re-writing anything. My best ideas come to me in the first rush of discovery. The rest is editing.
I finished the story in February 2011, during the dark weeks following the Christchurch earthquake when we were off work and felt like we were living in our own localised apocalypse.
From initial concept to completion took four years.
Early on I posted the first chapter, pre-edits and re-writes to a couple of writing lists for critique. It got plenty of feedback and it was all good advice. Vision Writers members suggested it fell a little flat after the opening scene. So I kept working on it, adding a new scene that helped expand the universe of the story. The story took me on its own journey. What I ended up with was a character driven post-zombie-apocalypse story with lots of pulp-horror adventure. Of all the critique groups I’ve worked with over the years, Vision and Writing and Publishing (both Yahoo groups) have provided the most consistent critiques.
Once I finished the first draft I started seriously editing it. I got other people to read it and I put it down for a month and then came back to it and edited again. This process fixed all kinds of errors. Then near the end of March the sample went off to Angry Robot. I edited it again while they were considering the first 15,000 words.
Stories reach a point where they are good enough. From here I’ll re-write and make changes only based on editorial feedback.
As David Byrne and Talking Heads once asked, ‘How did I get here?’
- Write every day write a shopping list, a to-do list, a poem, an email, a blog, a short story a chapter a character bio. Write on a PC or Mac, a tablet, a napkin, in the sand. Write in ink, pencil, crayon, blood, condensation. Write in tongues, write non-fiction, write porn, write revenge, lust, passion, action, descriptive passages, dialogue. Write screenplays, radio-scripts, first person, third person, second person, write under a pseudonym. Write at a desk, in your car, upside down, in bed. Write in your head if you have to.
- There is no such thing as writers block. If you have no idea where your current project is going – go back to the point where you knew where it was going and start writing from there. If that doesn’t work for you – see point 1.
- Love Rejection but Don’t Luuurve Rejection. Rejection is part of writing. Every writer get’s rejected. Usually by incompetent morons who couldn’t edit a tombstone inscription! At least that’s our immediate and emotional reaction. We hate rejection. If you learn to accept rejection, you lose a lot of the fear that comes with not writing and submitting to markets. When rejection comes with good advice – treasure it. Remember the editor is rejecting the work – not you as a person. The flip side to that is that your mum, partner or writing group are probably praising you, not your writing. Blanket praise should be regarded with suspicion.
- Read critically. Read everything. Read it for the usual reasons you read things (to be entertained, informed, aroused, incensed, or just because there’s nothing on the telly). When you come to a bit in a book you really enjoy – read it critically. Why does that passage or line or dialogue strike you? On the flip-side of that – when you read something that sucks – think about how it could have been written better. A lot of crap does get published, and it sells. It’s not about writing Shakespeare or Theroux. It is about writing something good enough to achieve the purpose it is intended before. Mostly (and no writer will ever admit this) the purpose is to make the writer very rich and smug at cocktail parties.
These simple approaches to writing are what got me to where I am today. Always learning, always practising and always having fun with exploring new ideas and enjoying other people’s great stories.