The AusLit Melbourne Writing Team recently workshopped a story with visiting US New York Times bestselling novelist Maria V Snyder (interviewed here). Maria toured Australia and New Zealand, following a campaign by her Australian readers for her publisher Harlequin Teen to bring her to Australia.
Maria has written three series of speculative fiction novels and short stories for a range of anthologies. She teaches popular fiction writing and mentors fiction writers at Seton Hill University.
Since the Melbourne Writing Team is writing a novel-length integrated collection of short stories with a near-future ghost premise aimed at teen/young adult readers, Maria was a prime candidate to workshop a story.
The Melbourne Writing Team is made up of Beau Hillier, Belinda Dorio and Steve Rossiter. Maria helped workshop the opening story of the book, written by Belinda.
The story introduces Alice, a 17 year old patient in a hospital psych ward, whose life is disrupted when her nurse Caroline dies in her room and she insists ghosts killed Caroline.
The writing team met Maria in her hotel and she even accepted an offer to join the team early for a buffet breakfast.
Maria’s writing interests and experience are in well-crafted and entertaining stories. As Maria demonstrated recently at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, she does not shy away from an honest opinion of what she likes or does not like in fiction, whether or not others consider a particular work a classic.
Maria discussed with the writing team areas such as:
– controlling how you convey a character’s personality through their actions, speech, appearance and the narration
– using concise wording and avoiding redundant details
– choosing the right story opening to hook readers and create intrigue
– breaking up sections of writing and arranging the writing on the page to make it flow better for readers
– likely reader expectations and whether to play to them or to establish that those expectations do not apply in this story
Workshopping with other fiction writers can be a great way to get new ideas and refine a story, as Lauren Kate recently emphasised in a chat for The Australian Literature Review.
The revised draft for the opening of the story begins:
A thought whispers maliciously through my head: If you can’t see yourself, how do you know you exist?
Grey eyes stare back at me, the colour of murky rain. I’m sure they haven’t always been like this, so grey – though I can’t be sure. Sleek black brows furrow above the grey eyes. Had my eyes been blue once? A part of me feels certain they had been. But what stares back at me is definitely the ugly colour of grey iron, not the blue of clear skies. I smooth a frown line until my brows relax again. See? It’s me in the mirror, surely. I tilt my handy little mirror up a little to view my jet black hair that closely resembles a bird nest, though I can’t be sure that this isn’t the current fashion because I don’t get many magazines in here. I force my brow not to furrow again, but I can’t stop the strange shadow that passes through those grey eyes. Maybe that’s what sadness looks like? Shadows in the depths of eyes? But how would I know, I’m probably imagining it – like everything else. I scoff and fold the little mirror closed gently. My hands smooth over the cold surface a few times before I tuck it back under my pillow – safely hidden. My hands shake a little as I try to ignore the feeling of panic that gnaws at my insides when I think of losing that small, shiny compact mirror.
A buzz at the door pulls me from my thoughts…
The Australian Literature Review