calissa: (Calissa)
Photo by Chris Fitzgerald. Used with permission.

Photo by Chris Fitzgerald. Used with permission.

Brewing Community is a series of guest posts in which readers, writers, artists and fans are invited to share their experiences of community. Whether online or in person, these groups bring a great deal of support and sometimes stress to their members. The aim of this series is to share the joy and find ways to brew stronger communities. If you have some experiences you’d like to share, please let me know.

Today’s guest is Maureen Flynn: poet, author and fan. I had the great pleasure of catching up with Maureen at Conflux in October, where she spoke movingly on David McDonald’s Paying for Our Passion panel. Being a Doctor Who fan, she spent part of the convention cosplaying Missie and I always keep my eye out for her commentary on the latest episodes. Like me, she’s a candidate for the NAFF race this year (so if you enjoy her post here, please consider voting for her).

 

Why building community matters

When Elizabeth kindly asked me to guest post for this series, my head reeled. There are so many different places I could go with talking about my journey in being both separate and part of community. It started from my days as a young carer feeling like a fish out of water amongst other children, but there is also teenage days experimenting in online fandom and fan fiction during 2007-2011 as a form of escape and self-discovery. There is also discovering safe places to participate in community through blogging, involvement in local clubs and societies in the geek fandom space and, recently, cons and the speculative fiction community in Australia. Even, I now realise, organisations like my brother’s disability support provider, who I don’t need to justify myself to or explain myself to because they live and breathe not just disability every day, but also local relationships and the values that matter an awful lot to me. The truth is I can’t separate these disparate communities because they all provide me with the same thing. They keep me connected to people that I love and value and care about, and keep me connected to the people who love and value and care about me.

For me, sense of community starts with my carer role, with my experiences of isolation and difference because of that role, and my participation on the Helena Bonham Carter forum as a way to escape feeling different. I can tell you this without any shade of embarrassment: Helena Bonham Carter probably saved my life, helped me realise who I was at my heart’s core and helped me to be the writer I am now. Her fandom gave me permission to be weird and wonderful and to write like my life depended on it, no one judging my words. She was, and is, a wonderful role model: funny, smart, down to earth, and always honest about being herself. Her fans were creative, fierce, different, daring, pushing boundaries. They also told me I should never give up on my writing or apologise for who I or my family was. When I was part of that fandom, I made myself a promise: I would never be judgemental or unkind if I could help it, never exclude people because they are different, never worry about how others saw me or judged me, or do what people expected of me again. It set the tone for the range of communities I chose to be part of in later years.

Why does participation in my communities matter? There is an interesting discussion happening in the community care space as federal reform rocks the sector. That discussion is around two things that link back to community: inclusion and the concept of “the good life.” What does meaningful inclusion look like for Australian citizens and what does a good life look like? Is it the same for all? And how do people, especially marginalised and/or disadvantaged people, achieve it? These discussions are complex and there are no easy answers, but there is basic consensus on some of it.

  1. People who are connected to community are less isolated and less vulnerable
  2. People who are connected to community have greater social opportunities
  3. People who are connected to multiple communities are more likely to feel good about themselves and have greater resilience

It should be evident from both this post and my post for David McDonald that these statements hold true for me. Without the multiple communities I identify with I wouldn’t be the strong, resilient carer I am today. People in the speculative fiction community are sometimes surprised that I put so much effort into attending book launches, bringing along friends to events and participating in things like the Aurealis Awards, but for me it is a no-brainer because community works both ways. Let me give you two examples. In Melbourne, I met a bunch of Helena fans for the Tim Burton exhibition. One girl I met lived in the same LGA as me and we’d never known despite chatting on a forum. She didn’t have a big friendship network. I recognised that she’d fit right into mine. I invited her to a bunch of events and she’s now firmly ensconced in my friendship group. She paid it back by becoming my brother’s volunteer through his disability provider, enthusiastically supporting my brother to finish university and expand his social networks. Without Elise in my family’s life, I doubt my brother would be where he is today. I doubt I would have had half as much fun as I have had in the past few years at countless dress-up parties, movie nights, and this year, at a memorable “alternative valentine’s day” and a charity ball.

I almost didn’t attend this year’s Aurealis. I was feeling down for a number of reasons, largely relating to the carer role. I felt like no one in the writer community could really understand what I felt. The effort of even thinking about going all the way to Canberra was exhausting. At the last minute, I went. I was shocked by the amount of people who came to speak with me, to ask me how I was doing, to offer writing advice and titbits of knowledge. I had been an idiot to try to shut myself away from community. The more I did, the less I wrote and the less resilient I felt, the more isolated I became.

It’s interesting to me that the values about community I learnt from my HBC years still hold true today. It’s interesting that again and again different communities I am involved with have halted hard falls, offered new horizons, supported me, offered friendship and advice. I am often asked to speak with carers about reform and about caring for themselves. I give them this advice: find your own passions, don’t be subsumed by the caring role. Get out there and find community, because it will be your opportunity and your salvation, and because if you never try to put yourself out there, you will never know what might have been. I am beginning to see more and more that this advice applies beyond carers because here’s the thing: if people put into the community, the community puts back into you. Building community matters because community connects us together, unites us, reminds us of human relationships and why they matter. Without them the daily grind wears us down, plunges us into tunnel vision, reduces opportunity, and decimates social capital, leads us to despair and isolation and danger as we fall off cliffs we never needed to fall from. That’s why I’ll fight hard to support my communities. All of them. Because belonging to them matters to me and to countless others. Because as long as I’m part of communities I’ve chosen, I don’t have to be the isolated and frightened and timid person I was all of those years ago.

 

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Maureen Flynn works with community care providers in disability and aged care as they navigate federal reform. In her spare time, she writes young adult speculative fiction novels and short stories, verse poetry and she has just ventured into writing crime. Currently, she is looking for a home for her YA fantasy manuscripts and is working on a crime novel and a verse novel about “the historical Merlin”. Maureen reviews speculative fiction novels at her WordPress blog, InkAshlings. Never one for saying no to a challenge, she also reviews genre books, films and TV shows and has interviewed authors for her blog. Her self-published verse novella, My Heart’s Choir Sings is available from Amazon and Smashwords. You can follow Maureen at her website, on Goodreads o rTwitter.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)
Photo by Chris Fitzgerald. Used with permission.

Photo by Chris Fitzgerald. Used with permission.

Brewing Community is a series of guest posts in which readers, writers, artists and fans are invited to share their experiences of community. Whether online or in person, these groups bring a great deal of support and sometimes stress to their members. The aim of this series is to share the joy and find ways to brew stronger communities. If you have some experiences you’d like to share, please let me know.

I’ve noted many times that I’m a sucker for a reading challenge. The very first one I participated in was Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon back in April 2010 (wow, has it been that long already?). That was how I met Andi Miller. Andi is an amazing facilitator of community, particularly amongst fellow book bloggers. Today I’ve asked her to share a bit about Dewey’s Readathon and the community that surrounds it.


 

I am an introvert. I am perfectly happy, when I’m not forced to be out relating to people, to sit around my house and read. Having found the online community of readers 14 years ago, I do know for certain that I am eternally thankful for being part of something bigger. I relish the feeling of a community of readers thriving around me, even if I can’t always see or experience the gathering in a tangible way. I can read the Tweets, see the photos on Instagram, or visit friends on their blogs. I can wiggle my way through streams of hashtag posts. I can experience the interaction even if it isn’t a festival or a conference. The community is so real and so electrifying even though it’s scattered.

Three years ago my best friend Heather and I were asked to take the reins of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon which was founded by an amazing community-builder, Dewey of The Hidden Side of a Leaf,  in 2007. Sadly, Dewey passed away in 2008, but the Readathon has endured, a testament to Dewey’s forethought and community-boosting skills as well as the need for interactive events for our very large, and ever-expanding community here in the online book world.

Not only is the Readathon still going strong, it’s growing exponentially. Whereas the event used to be located across a series of blogs, we now see greater numbers of participants on Twitter, Instagram, and a thriving Goodreads group with over 1,000 members. While the ways we communicate may have shifted and changed, the lively spirit of it all has only expanded. If you ever thought about participating in something on Twitter, the Readathon is a must! By simply searching for the #dewey #readathon hashtags on Twitter, you’re catapulted into a teeming swirl of readers in the act of celebrating their favorite pastime. It’s nothing short of breathtaking…and sometimes a bit overwhelming. All you have to do is jump in to be a part of it. A comment to a friend, or even a stranger, is enough to spark a conversation and fuel the celebration.

With another Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon coming up on October 17, 2015, it’s time that the wheels behind the scenes begin to turn. Another testament to the online reading community is the amazing amount of volunteers who make this event happen. It’s truly humbling to see thousands of readers sign up to participate, but it tugs at our heartstrings even more that hundreds of you mobilize twice a year to make this circus of reading happen at all:

  • Goodreads group moderators
  • Cheerleaders who send their good words and best wishes out to the participants
  • Mini-challenge hosts who put on games in their favorite online spaces
  • Hourly co-hosts who keep the main website updated with good cheer
  • Prize donors who give of their own pockets and book stashes

Heather and I are facilitators more than anything. We’re blessed that the reading community answers this call and keeps this event fresh. We are thankful to you, readers, and you, volunteers, for bringing this whole thing to life.

We are thankful every day for this community.

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Andi Miller is a proponent of fauxhawks, gaudy jewelry, country music, and writing. When she’s not publicly relating at her day job or teaching university English courses online, she’s a hardcore reader, social media addict, and a 10-year book blogging veteran at Estella’s Revenge

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: Photo of Swarovski crystal & gold figurine of inkpot and quill sitting on a page that says 'create every day' (Writing)

 

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You may remember Lynn from the book discussion we had last month on Some Kind of Fairy TaleShe recently released her novel A Promise Broken, which first appeared in serial form on her blog. In honour of the occasion, I have invited her to share a bit about her experiences with serialised fiction.

Serialised fiction isn’t a new concept. One of the earliest forms of serial fiction may be The Tale of Genji (源氏物語) written in the 11th century, but it is uncertain whether the novel was published in instalments. In Western society, serialised fiction was made popular in about the 19th century, though novels such as Tristram Shandy were already being published in volumes a little before this time. More, ah, traditional examples of serialised fiction authors include Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Poetry could also be found published in serialised form, such as Lord Byron’s Don Juan.

The rise of serialised fiction in the West coincided with several societal changes that made fiction more widely available. Simplistically seen, these changes all stem from the Industrial Revolution and many of them still influence us to this day. The Revolution is when compulsory school attendance laws were passed and, in the UK, when local boroughs could start their own free library. Paper (and thus books and magazines) became easier and cheaper to produce.

My point is that serialised fiction isn’t a new concept. The internet, fanfiction and the prevalence of mobile devices have reintroduced us to the format. Like in the Industrial Revolution, the rise of serialised fiction coincides with large changes to our (Western) society. Fans were among the first to embrace these new technologies to write stories and produce digital art. Today serialisation is especially popular among indie authors as well as webcomic artists and, still and ever, the fans who write fiction.

When I started writing long-form for others to read myself in my mid-teens, it was in serialised form. I published pieces as they were finished and, taking on board feedback, would sometimes start over from scratch if something wasn’t working and I’d figured out how to fix it. I published my works for my friends to read and to learn the craft more than anything else. It’s how I met some of my closest friends, like Elizabeth.

Serialising A Promise Broken as a Work-In-Progress was, in some ways, a return to my digital writing roots with the biggest difference that, this time, I wouldn’t be releasing instalments as I finished them but on a schedule. I’d wanted to serialise it as a complete penultimate draft that needed only some mild typocatching starting this year. Running the serial last year was not part of my plan, but idealism and activism ensured that I did. Diversity in our fiction is important. You need only look at projects like Jim C. Hines’ Invisible (now in its second year ) to see how important. The decision to serialise a year early, before I was even done writing the story, followed on an especially awful few months in terms of diversity and representation. (I spoke a little about my reasoning before starting the project.) The story wasn’t done; it wasn’t ready; I’m sure I messed up somewhere. But sharing it was something that I could do as a budding indie-author that I felt might, someday, make a difference to someone.

However, the choice to serialise an unfinished work wasn’t ideal for me. I’m not the fastest writer and I discovered fairly early on that I needed to restrict myself to one post per week to be sure I didn’t have to take any breaks. I’d never done a structured serial before. Other people will have other answers on what works, of course. Faster writers can easily produce three posts per week or even daily!

As far as challenges go, writing speed wasn’t a large factor for me. I caught on to the fact that I was being too ambitious early on. A far bigger challenge was the fact that A Promise Broken wasn’t written to be serialised. Sometimes it proved impossible to find a good transition point between instalments. I’d set the average at between 1,000-1,500 words as that seemed to be the sweet spot for the serialised fiction I’d seen and while less than that isn’t necessarily an issue, much more than that is. Much longer than 1,500 words and people stop reading.

The chapters of A Promise Broken average at about 3,500 words, so roughly every three instalments on the website made up one chapter. Transitions in between them weren’t always as smooth as they could be. Either I picked the wrong paragraph to cut off or information was missing. One of the things that serialising fiction can teach a person is how to write smooth transitions. Reading a story in instalments may highlight issues that reading in one go won’t catch for you.

Sometimes my instalments were just too long for reading comfort. Once, I did that on purpose: in December, when other year-long serials I’d seen had wrapped up their narrative for the year and offered shorter bits of fun and fluff for the holiday hiatus. I bumped up the word count, so that the serial would finish before the Christmas holidays. Obviously, if you publish in a cultural sphere which celebrates other feasts, you may find yourself doing this at different times.

Currently, I’m at work on the sequel to A Promise Broken, which I aim to start serialising in 2016. It still won’t be written specifically for serialisation, but any future serialisation projects I do most likely will be. I’ve got a few ideas, some of which are ideally suited to the format because they’re episodic in nature.

Lyn Thorne-Alder has written a basic (but wonderful) guide on starting your own webserial here .

I’d also like to leave you all with a small list of others authors who produce serialised works :
Elizabeth Barrette (specialises in serial poetry)
Pia Foxhall (features explicit content and is not suitable for all readers)
M.C.A. Hogarth
LB Lee
Clare K.R Miller
K.A. Webb
Sarah Williams

And Shadow Unit is a webserial produced by several authors.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. There are many authors producing serial works, but hopefully these will give you a good idea of the kinds of stories out there.

And you can find more serialised fiction via sites such as:
http://webfictionguide.com/
http://muses-success.info/

 

Lynn E. O’Connacht has an MA in English literature and creative writing, but wouldn’t call herself an authority on either. She currently resides on the European continent and her idiom and spelling are, despite her best efforts, geographically confused, poor things. Her tastes are equally eclectic, though fantasy will always be her first love. She has been chasing stories one way or another since she was old enough to follow a narrative.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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