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Putting the ‘Fantasy’ into ‘Retro-Fantasy’

One of the important things for me in my writing is to explore the genres I most love to write. From my beginnings as an author – right back when I started writing as a child – fantasy was my clear favourite.

So what influenced me most in my journey to the author I am now?

Books – Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Faraway Tree series, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gulliver’s Travels, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Aladdin, Aesop’s Fables, King Arthur, fairy stories, and mythology in general; TV shows – Bewitched, The Addams Family, The Munsters, and most cartoons; and movies – The Wizard of Oz, Disney animated feature films, and Ray Harryhausen movies The Voyages of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans.

Besides which, I was influenced by my love of horror – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe in particular, mystery – I was a fan of Agatha Christie by my teen years, early sci-fi like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, later sci-fi like Ray Bradbury and the early Star Wars movies, and the classics like Dickens, Mark Twain, R.L. Stephenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and probably plenty of others.

Not to mention Shakespeare…

This was all the stuff I was into before the age of 20. By that time, I had written a children’s adventure series, a play (that my year 6 class performed in front of the rest of the school) which was a ghostly murder mystery – with songs!, a short fantasy story that I handed in as an assessment piece (I got an A for it, if I remember correctly), and my first good poem (also an assessment piece), which I’d say was comedic horror.

You can see how this was shaping up?

I wrote my first serious fantasy novel in my twenties, and sent it to a publishing house in Adelaide – because I’d done my research like a good little vegemite and looked for places that published fantasy. They turned it down, but the editor who had read it was keen to talk to me. Over an enthusiastic hour and a half on the phone, we discussed my ideas, and he encouraged me to keep writing as I was ‘clearly talented’ and ‘knew how to write’.

I rewrote that story, then rewrote it again – and I still have it tucked away for further work, because I still love the whole concept I’d come up with. Not only that, but it grew into a trilogy at some stage…

I also helped a very good friend to edit his fantasy novels, and started writing lots of poetry. Further down the track I got to grips with writing short stories, and other ideas for novels started coming to me. A big chunk of life happened while I was tinkering with all of this, but I felt no great hurry to get anything finished. I always just ‘knew’ that one day I would be a published author.

Fairy stories and fantasy tales...

2008 was instrumental in many ways. I’d tried out a couple of writing groups around my town, but I didn’t feel they were appropriate for me. One was dominated by much older writers, who weren’t at all interested in genre fiction. Another was a well-meaning group of hobbyists, who weren’t terribly concerned with the idea of developing writing skills or getting work published. There seemed to be nowhere that catered to my needs. So I started my own writing group, called Generation X,Y,Z.

And I also discovered National Novel Writing Month.

A lot has been said for and against NaNoWriMo. Yes, it’s good because it gets people writing in a supportive like-minded community, and helps them to set and reach their writing goals. No, it encourages wanna-be amateurs who have never written anything to pound out tonnes of slush-pile drivel and then inundate publishing houses with it. Or worse, self-publish without proper editing only to unleash said drivel on an unsuspecting public, giving all self-published/Indie authors a stinky reputation.

I will always come down on the side of anything that encourages creativity in people. Just because someone takes part in something like NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean their work is rubbish. And it doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to try and publish something unreadable. Yes, there are some stinkers out there due to this process, but there are also many really good, successful authors who got their start thanks to NaNoWriMo.

Personally, I use it as a tool for getting a good start on a story. When November 1st rolls around, I sit down with a vague plot outline and a couple of characters, and I let it rip. I have managed to reach the goal of 50,000 words every year, which gives me half a novel. Then I usually put it aside and go back to work on whatever novel I had been working on before November, and come back to it later to finish.

I did have a problem for a while. I would start a new story every November, and go back to finish some previous story – and I ended up with a heap of unfinished stories. So then I started using NaNoWriMo to write the second half of a story, which works out really well, as I can now go back and finish all these half-written novel beginnings.

Last November I sat down to write the second half of Book Two of my Goddess trilogy. By the end of the month, I had 78,000 words – a personal best for NaNoWriMo. By December 2nd, I had finished the story off with another 4000 words. But could I stop there? Hell no!

I kept ploughing on, and over the next month and a half, wrote all of Book Three bar the last chapter. That came in at a whopping 114, 642 words – and it wasn’t even finished! The momentum I had from NaNoWriMo propelled me through one of the most intense and fulfilling writing periods I’ve ever experienced. The last chapter came later, after initial edits of the second and third books. Another few thousand words…

And then came things like building an author platform – which encouraged me to think much more deeply about what type of novels I would be writing and publishing.

I originally wrote the Atomic Goddess stories in a contemporary setting, but I realised that it was very much out of line with everything else I had in the works. All my other stories were either epic fantasy, or ‘retro’ – set in other time periods, from steampunk-influenced Gaslamp fantasy to a Dieselpunk zombie story set in 1941.

I realised that I may alienate a great chunk of my readers by switching from a contemporary setting in my first novels to more historical ones. The idea came to me that maybe Atomic Goddess could be revised to an earlier time. And the obvious choice was the 1960’s. The more I thought about it, the more I believed it would be a good move.

And it was. But I’ll let the story speak for itself once it’s published.

My writing journey has certainly been an enjoyable roller-coaster ride. I know I probably could have hurried through it and tried to get my work published much sooner than I have. But I never felt the need to push it in that way. I wanted to let it unfold at its own pace, and trusted that I would know when the time was right to take my novels to the next phase.

I’m really glad I spent so much time honing my skills in the craft of writing, and learning about publishing before I dipped a toe in. With many of my poems and short stories now published online and in print, and with the knowledge that I have acquired, I finally feel ready to present my novels to a wider reading audience.

Keep a smile on your dial until next time, and peace and love in your heart

From Lana Lea and her time-travelling muse

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