Kirstie Olley

Mother/writer/gamer Kirstie Olley is president of Vision Writers group and author of many quirky speculative fiction stories that have been competition winners, Aurealis Awards finalists, and honourable mentions in international competitions.

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Another month another writing prompt over on the Vision Writers blog by me. This time around I’m toying with the alternate histories concept such as the movie ‘Sliding Doors’ used. If you’re a writer seeking inspiration, check it out.

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March was a busy month. I kept picking up extra shifts at work, and with Easter and school holidays at the end you can bet there was no lack of stuff to do.

Regarding my specific goals set for March:

  • Revise and find betas for Nothing Charming: I completed my revisions of Nothing Charming. The story ended up at 40k (almost a full legnth novel) and is now out with beta readers to get the feedback back to me by May 1st (a lot of the readers have already sent it back, but I’m focusing on finishing ‘Keys, Clocks, Quests’  as priority next month, so won’t look over it until I’m done that first draft).
  • Continue editing ‘Light In The Deep’ with group feedback and submit final portion for critique: this one got a little derailed. I got some feedback in the second portion I submitted to my writers group which meant I had to look deeper at a few things, and these problems need to percolate for a bit while I try to find the solution. (a bit more on this further below)
  • Choose between ‘Keys, Clocks, Quests’ and Tucca of The Tides and prep outline so ready to go for finishing in April (Camp NaNo): I did up a super outline of the whole of ‘Keys, Clocks, Quests’. I did this so I can finish the first draft on course for the changes I’l make to the start in revisions. It will also help keep me focused when I do those rewrites for the start(hopefully later this year). I even had one of my more experienced writer pals go over the outline with me and refine it – thanks Jake <3
  • Revise ‘Look Skyward’: didn’t touch it sadly. Blame Ni No Kuni ;p

One morning I woke up with a cool short story idea and thus was born ‘Against The Black Knight’ (1,700 words). So, though it wasn’t a goal, I’ve written another actually short short story. I’m very happy about that since I wanted to produce a lot of new short fiction this year. I’ve also been getting back a few rejections, editing with their feedback and sending the stories on to new homes, so I’ve really been rocking the ‘short fiction’ part of my yearly goals this March.

For the second time this year I had Harley in daycare but I didn’t go to my ‘day job’ and instead wrote. I edited a massive amount of Nothing Charming that day. Combined with the results from a similar test I did last month where a wrote and edited to great result. I’m hoping if this contines we might make it a weekly instead of monthly thing ;p

I did a webinar on better book descriptions (back cover blurbs) with Bryan Cohen (who I listen to a lot on his Sell More Books Show podcast) and another on ‘How to Get your First Ten Book Reviews’. I also read two craft books(Write Your Novel In A Month and The Story Equation) and did a course, and scored some notes from another course off a friend; so as far as my yearly goal to ‘keep learning’ went, I did a cracking job too.

In return for his beta-ing Nothing Charming, I gave feedback on a member of my writers group’s novel. It’s interesting to see how my feedback has improved over the years, some of the things I used to miss are easier for me to spot now, and I think I’m getting better at explaining some things. I only hope they enjoy reading my crits as much as I did giving them. I often worry when I do ‘big picture’ crits people will be mad at me ;p It sounds odd, but for example the feedback I got on the second part of Light In the Deep slowed my progress because I had to consider some deeper, overarching flaws. The solutions to some of those problems will probably unstitch some earlier events that I’d thought already edited – but that happens A LOT with really good feedback (not to mention, better to notice it now) but I know it’s frustrating to do these rewrites and I worry people I give that sort of feedback to won’t be as ‘ok, on with the work’ as me.

I also played some Ni No Kuni 2 this month, if you’re curious what I think of it so far you can check out my review. With all the transition memoirs I’ve been reading I also got distracted and went back to check out if an old webcomic I used to read back in the early 2000s was still around: Venus Envy. It was and there were a couple more years worth of strips for me to read. I *may* have re-read the whole thing ;p Like too many webcomics though, it has been dropped without being completed 🙁 I hope she’ll go back and finish it, but since it’s been abandoned a four full years I’m not very hopeful :'(

Books I read in March:

  • House of Many Ways: the final book in the Howl’s Moving Castle series and a great read
  • Valour and Vanity: another adventure-filled addition to this regency romance series (sounds a little oxymoronic I know) but extra points for the fact the storyline doesn’t revolve around actively seeking to tear apart the couple
  • Of Noble Birth: a brilliant conclusion to the series
  • Write Your Novel In A Month: a good ‘overall’ kind of writing book with a lot of productivity tips
  • The Story Equation: the new angles and heightened emotional focus made this a very useful book
  • Quests for Glory (School for Good and Evil 4): When middle grade is so good you don’t care telling people you’re reading it (despite being in your mid-thirities) for yourself not your kids ;p
  • Death By Cliche 2: Wrath of The Con: such pun, much rpg, very lol, wow.
  • Transition: The Story of How I Became A Man: Chaz Bono’s biography of his transition.
  • Being Jazz: another transition memoir, I’ll be reading a few of these over the next month or two, both to help me be a better friends to my growing number of trans friends and so I can write better trans characters
  • Obernewtyn: time to finally read the whole series!
  • The Far Seekers: finding all those layers you missed on previous read throughs
  • Ashling: still loving it
  • The Keeping Place: woohoo, the next one of the series I haven’t read before – excited!

Goals for April:

Number One, All-Encompassing-Focus is to complete the first draft of ‘Keys, Clocks, Quests’ (and maybe even find it a real title instead of my lame working one ;p ). That’s it. If by some miracle I finish that early, then I’ll work on the beta feedback for Lovely/Lonely and Nothing Charming.

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You might remember I leaped upon the PS3 version of Ni No Kuni when it came out, so it’s no surprise the same is true for the new one on the PS4.

I’m breaking this up into sections and keeping it brief but here are some main points of how I feel about the game thus far.

Nostalgia Factor

You start out in Ding Dong Dell, so straight into the nostalgia, but you don’t get much time to enjoy it because there’s a coup and you have to get out of there fast. The graphics are wonderfully reminscent of the first and still beautifully Studio Ghibli.

Icing on the cake: the fanfare theme plays plenty in this game too 😀 I walk around the house cleaning things humming or ‘do-do-doo-ing’ it.

Gameplay

I’ve noticed more and more games these last few years are putting multiple combat systems and gameplay methods into the one game. Used to be some of these gameplay styles were a whole game in and of themselves. It’s fun to have the extras, but sometimes they feel really tacked on – mostly that’s not true with Ni No Kuni 2.

The combat system is similar in that there are three people on your team and you face a group of monsters. What changed is the familiars are gone, replaced with spells and swappable weapons. I’m not anti-swapping weapons, but I am saddened by the loss of the familiars, they were one of my favourite things in the earlier game.

The skirmish battles that occasionally pop up as side quests (and once or twice right at the start as story requirements) are interesting, but they aren’t high strategy at the point I’m at in the game. At first glance I thought it was going to be full RTS style, but the units just stick by Evan’s side following him where ever he goes on the field. If a unit stands too close to a barricade they’ll attack that, not the enemy unit you’re aiming for. Also, it’s really hard to find ways to level at the start. I have to fight the two low-level whamster battles(lvl 3 and lvl4) like eight times to get my team strong enough to take on the next skirmish(lvl 10) and again before the next (lvl 17).

Running the kingdom is so much fun for me. I love that sort of stuff, particularly when there are in game boosts from all the work you do. I’m not sure if I hate the fact the kingdom upgrades run on their own currency not the standard in-game currency, or I love it. Sometimes I leave the game running while I clean or something else to earn more Kingsguilders ;p

 

Story

I’m not finished yet, but the storyline thus far is much less strongly about how ‘our’ world connects to the fantasy world, and so far Roland(the person from ‘our’ world) has a lot less effect on the story compared to Oliver from the original (though he’s cool and he reminds me a bit of Col. Roy Mustang, so it’s largely forgiven ;p ).

The story revolves more around Evan, the child-king, and the new kingdom he wants to make. It’s fun so far, but apart from the highly exciting chapter one (with Aranella) it hasn’t been gripping – perhaps because those life and death stakes, the desire to revive a dead mother, aren’t in this one. I’m hoping that since I’m probably not even half way done that there’s going to be some great twists coming, since the first game had some rippers. Verdict on the plot thus far: good, fun, but not gripping (yet, still early).

 

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun and as I often do getting distracted with side quests (which get you more citizens and build our kingdom ;p ). It’s not as good as the first one, but it is probably suffering a bit from comparisonitis, and since I’m still enjoying it (and nowhere near finished like I was when I wrote the review for the first one) I won’t hold that against it.

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I’ve put up another writing prompt over on the Visions Writers website, this time celebrating my love for chimeras. I have chimeras on the brain right now as I prepare to finish off the first draft of ‘Keys, Clocks, Quests’ – in which nearly all the animals are chimeric versions of creatures of our world.

Full Metal Alchemist fans may want to prepare themselves for the picture I used to accompany the post. I am evil.

So if you’re writerly, check out the writing prompt.

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February was going so well, I had one massive week where I wrote 16,300 words one week, then the following week wrote four complete short stories (cumulative total 6,600 words), but then a gastro bug came along and decimated a bit over a week while I took care of sick family members, it even took me specifically out for five days.

This month was still quite productive though. I wrote a total of 25,700 new words and edited roughly 115 pages. I did a fair amount of work for my writers group too since we’re being forced to move online platforms due to the current one being too old and the files section regularly dropping out for the last couple of months.

Regarding mypre-set goals for February this is how I went:

  • Write for pieces of flash fiction – I wrote two actual flash length pieces(The Last Breath Before Foam and Delivery Man Wanted, both around 900 words), one still-fairly-short piece(Money for Meat at 1,800 words), and one not really short, but kinda short for me piece (The Taste Of Blood, 3,000 words). Thus I consider this goal successfully completed – if a little over length ;p
  • Revise and continue getting feedback for ‘Light In The Deep’ – revised the whole thing based on my writer’s group feedback on the first 5,000 words and have submitted the next 5,000. There are 2,500 words left for the next month unless further revisions blow it out or shrink it
  • Complete first draft of Nothing Charming, revise, and send to betas if time – I completed the first draft at 38,000 words, 18k of which I wrote in February. I started revision, but only a couple of pages, it’s still far from beta ready
  • Check places that pay for reprints re: my older sold short stories – I did not ;p oops

After doing a final pass (after my multiple passes last month) I’ve resubmitted Foxworth with the rewrite request, now to play the waiting game.

Books I read this month:

I gouged my foot open in the middle of the month too (running to get the recycling bin out on time ;p ) and couldn’t walk for several days. T-J put a TV in the bedroom so I wouldn’t be bored while I sat with my foot up, but it meant I played a lot of games (because pain put a buzz in my head that made anything but early morning words too horrendous to live). I replayed some of Atelier Rorona, it’s still one of my all-time favourites of the Atelier series. How can anyone decide between Sterk and Iksel? ;p I also have done a couple more dungeons in Persona 5. I was very naughty game-wise this month.

Quite an eventful month, hey? How was yours?

And now, without further ado, my goals for March:

  • Revise and find betas for Nothing Charming
  • Continue editing ‘Light In The Deep’ with group feedback and submit final portion for critique
  • Choose between ‘Keys, Clocks, Quests’ and Tucca of The Tides (both half completed NaNo novels) and prep outline so ready to go for finishing in April (Camp NaNo)
  • Revise ‘Look Skyward’

A lot of revision, I know, but April will be almost pure writing, so fair’s fair.

 

 

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I’ve posted another writing prompt over on the Vision Writers website. If you’re a writer go check it out.

I was very late with it this month because a gastro bug his my family like a tonne of bricks and took us all out for well over a week.

Also, the little graphic I make with every prompt post, this month is actually a photo taken by one of our regular meeting-attending members, Dave Brine, who is an avid bird watcher. You can stalk him, or watch him stalking birds (and occasionally other Aussie fauna on instagram @birdsofbogan

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At my writers group meeting on Sunday I outed myself as a bit of a formatting nerd. This had long been known to verterans of the group. I will reformat stories if I can’t read them and in my feedback link the submitter to Shunn’s manuscript formatting guide. I will lop heads off for the sin of not putting page numbers in headers or footers. But this weekend just passed I showed I even get obsessive about the nitty gritty stuff, like paragraphs.

Two people got feedback from me regarding paragraphs, one on how paragraphs can affect pacing and the other on stylistic use of paragraphs. So I made that the meeting takeaway. If you’re curious you can head over to the Vision Writers website where I made the post.

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good because you can use that time to write ;p

Oops, forgot to actually tell you what my month specific goals were ;p Oh well, here they are and how I fared with them:

  • Finish ‘Alone Time’ first draft: completed at 5,700 words, but its going to need a bunch of trimming
  • Send Lovely/Lonely to beta readers: successfully sent out
  • Start submitting Mermaid In A Jar: it’s out there ;p
  • Start submitting Not Human, Not Alien: also out there
  • Finalise the print copy of Darkest Depths anthology for Vision Writers: done and proof copy is on the way
  • Complete first draft of Nothing Charming: I’ve written 8,600 new words, but I’m sill around 10-15k from the end. I got stuck in a frustrating scene that bogged me down but once I escaped it I set a cracking pace
  • Complete rewrites on Foxworth per the rewrite request: I’ve done four passes so far focussing on deepening pov and inserting bad moods/days. the publisher reopens for submissions in February so I hope to do one final pass and fingers crossed they like the rewrite and ask to buy it.

I also started some revision on ‘Light In The Deep’ (my sequel to Hans Christian Andersons’ The Little Mermaid, following the story of one of her sisters in her greif over the little mermaid’s death) and submitted the first 5,000 words to my critique group for feedback.

January was a tumtltuous start to the year: a wedding, a funeral, school holidays, the Yahoo group boards collapsing on my writers group(and my trying to create work-arounds when the ‘help’ department turned out to be forums) – I’m surprised I got anything done ;p

Here on the website I put a few new things on the books pages, like badges for awards/ honourable mentions, shortlists ect. and plan to add some testimonials/review snippets next month. I also added three of the four missing anthologies to my sidebar(which involves making those 3d images myself, hence the delay ;p ). I also finally became an Amazon affiliate, so if you’d like to support me click this link and buy a million things on Amazon an I’ll get a little bump from them but your purchases don’t cost you anything extra(you don’t have to buy my book either, just don’t exit Amazon completely, simply jump into your wishlist or the search bar from the link).

Books I read in January:

  • The Devil’s Only Friend: the 4th John Cleaver book and one of the best examples of putting in enough info to cover the previous books but not so much as to bore or spoiler your reader I’ve seen.
  • Over Your Dead Body: the 5th John Cleaver book
  • Nothing Left To Lose: the 6th and final John Cleaver book – a satisfying conclusion
  • The Cruel Prince: my first five star of the year – and so early!
  • Romancing the Beat: a writing book focusing on beats in a romance novel/story/subplot
  • Unmagical Girl: (manga) I couldn’t resist, but the story I imagined was more interesting to me than what I actually got (not that it was bad, just I got soooo excited about the other concept, I’ll probably write it myself ;p )
  • The Barefoot Investor: this was given to me by a friend for Christmas. It might sound like a weird Christmas gift but when you know he used this book to buy a house on a disability pension it’s far less so.
  • The Fifth Season: a quite stunning fantasy I’m eager to read the rest of the series
  • The Reason I Jump: a book by a 13yo autistic boy in Japan. A very quick read, but insightful and inspiring
  • Turtles All The Way Down: a cool YA book about mental illness, the lines between rich and poor, and friendship and romance.

I am already well adapted to listening to my non-fiction podcasts in 1.5x speed and have listened to most of my fiction podcasts in the last three weeks at 1.5 speed. I even listened to several books at 1.5x. I think this was a lot easier to adjust to than I feared. Some narrators and hosts can’t be listened to at 1.5 though, they already speak fast enough ;p Also if I am using my bluetooth speaker and my husband comes in the room he always mocks the sound of it and me for wanting to pack more into my day. I recentl posted on this matter, you can check that post out here.

My goals for February are:

  • Write flash fiction – I’m going to call it flash fiction February ;p I’m pushing myself to write at least four new flash pieces, one each week
  • Revise and continue getting feedback for ‘Light In The Deep’
  • Complete first draft of Nothing Charming, revise, and send to betas if time
  • Check places that pay for reprints re:my older sold short stories

Stretch Goal:

  • Outline ‘The Handrell War’ and commence draft
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My first 5 star book of the year, and I read it at 1.5x speed

One of my more casual goals for this year was to increase my audiobook and podcast listening speeds. Audiobooks already save me time by allowing me to read while walking, exercising, cleaning, and doing housework, but I also listen to 9 podcasts about writing craft/book marketing and 8 fiction podcasts (I also want to grow that fiction set). I want to keep reading 50+ books a year as well as consuming these (mostly) weekly podcasts, but I also want more time to write and sure as heck aren’t cutting into my time with my family. Increasing reading speed gives me the opportunity to try and have it all.

I’d set the goal aiming that in around 6 months I’d be listening to all my non-fiction podcasts at 1.5x speed and I’d *maybe* try audiobooks around that speed too by the end of the year.

I’m already listening to all my podcasts at either 1.5x or 2x, and have listened to most of the audiobooks I’ve read in the later half of this month at either 1.5x or 2x. I’ve already adapted. Only every now and again do I come across a narrator (or host) who speaks a little too fast to handle at the higher speeds.

T-J laughs at me. He teases me all the time about the not-quite-chipmunk sound of the voices. But while listeneing to the audiobook of Barefoot Investor and reading along with the print version my fab friend Jake bought me, I discovered listening at 1.75x speed is very close to my normal reading speed when reading a paperback or ebook (my reading is a tiny bit faster). This is probably why I’ve adapted so easily to the faster listening speed because my brain is already capable of absorbing this sort of information at this speed already, only my mode of consumption has changed.

If you’re in any doubt as to the improvement of my reading speed, I have kept up-to-date will all my podcasts and read 8 books this month. Also note this is during summer school holidays too! And my enjoyment of books hasn’t lessened; I read my first two 5 star books of the year already, Holly Balck’s ‘The Cruel Prince‘ and Naoki Higashida’s ‘The Reason I Jump’.

Do you love audio for reading or listening to podcasts, or are you hesitant to try it?

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Japanophile, so of course I’ve used kishotenketsu structure before, most recently and notably in ‘Hanabi to Kitsune'(Fireworks and Foxes).

So for the start of a new year, over on the Vision Writers website, I challenged all the writers who read there to write a story in kishotenketsu structure.

Check out the prompt and links to some sites I found handy when learning about kishotenketsu myself that I’ve put over on the Vision Writers site.