Phoenix Fire – beta reading

Phoenix Fire - beta reading

When writing a story of any length, you need to get outside input. As writers, we are deeply invested in our work and it’s easy to start believing that everything you created must be gold. In fact, even if you secretly think your work is the worst and should never see the light of day, you still feel like every single word of negative feedback is unfair and hurtful. It’s easy to understand why writers are so afraid to ask anyone to read their story before it’s published, right?

The funny thing is: Writers are the harshest beta readers. You know what you want from a story to make it a delight to read (even though it somehow eludes you with your own work). You know that it should be effortless to read. You know your genre and what the audience expects from it. Even if you don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory of good writing yourself, you expect every other writer to be the utter personification of it.

So, what do I do to balance it out for anthology submissions? I use two beta readers per submission (at least, for the first round) – one academic (a writer or someone who studied literature) and one layman (someone who reads but never studied literature). If both of these beta readers hate the story, then something is obviously wrong. If only the former finds the submission lacking, it means the writer did not apply good writing theory and needs to develop their skills but a total overhaul of the story is probably not necessary. It is highly unusual for the layman to dislike a story if the academic finds it satisfying.

Wait a minute, Natalie, you just used the word “satisfying”. You know that’s a subjective thing, right?

Yes, I realise that. This is why I give all my beta readers, regardless of background, a list of questions they must answer about each of the stories. Some of the questions are simple, for example: “Did you enjoy the story?” Some questions involve story writing terms and concepts that I actually explain in layman’s terms in brackets. This means that my layman gets a little guidance on what to look for and my academic is kept on track (if you give this particular dog a bone, he won’t let it go).

Of course, there’s no way that the beta readers will identify all the problems. There is always that one troll reader who will tell you all about the plot holes and character discrepancies once the book is for sale. And don’t get me started on beta readers being too polite to tell you what they were really thinking. All I know is: I try my best to help my writers craft a better story.

That’s all for today. I’ll post about helpful beta reading another time.

Phoenix Fire – stoking the fire

Phoenix Fire

It’s amazing how fast you forget how much effort goes into doing something from scratch. Whether it’s raising a child (potty training – groan) or compiling an anthology, there are so many things that need to be done – little, big, somewhere in between…

After getting into contact with my writing community, I have an initial list of writers, beta readers, language practitioners and artists/designers. Each of these groups get an info pack to let them know what they need to do by when.

This sounds simple but it takes a lot of time and careful consideration. I need to keep in mind that all of my helpers are volunteers. When are the deadlines too tight or too lax? What is too much, what is too little? At what point do you overwhelm your helpers with information?

Here, in the beginning of the process, the worst is really waiting for responses and submissions. I don’t know who will fall out. I don’t know who will pull through. I don’t know whether there will be enough stories in the end or whether my writers will present me with drivel. And, I’m working with writers and artists…so, everything will happen at the last possible minute.

I guess, the good news is: I have one story already in beta reading. If everything else goes wrong, I can publish that story.

Get ready for Phoenix Fire

Two years ago, a fire was kindled and it promised to grow. But life has a funny way of taking turns and making it difficult to find your way. We all started wondering whether the fire was going out and we would watch another dream being snuffed out before it could fly.

I am writing this post to tell you that from ashes a phoenix shall rise!

Yes, you read right! Phoenix Fire is in the making. My South African writer friends are putting on their writer hats and we’re putting together an anthology to follow up The Flight of the Phoenix. This time around, the target audience is narrowed down to YA (young adult) only, though the genres will stay fantasy, science fiction and horror.

Keep your eyes open for more posts as we fight the dying of the light!

The Flight of the Phoenix on Unisa Radio

Before 25 July 2015, I had never before been in a radio station studio before. I arrived a good hour early…you know, so I have time to get lost trying to find the campus where it’s situated and then get lost trying to find the right building and the right room and so forth.

It turns out, I used to work on the very campus where Unisa Radio has its building. And it took me all of 5 minutes to find the station’s building inside.


Going on air was actually quite relaxing after stressing myself out beforehand. I guess it also helped that our DJ, SindiM, was really easy to talk to and she didn’t ask any questions I wasn’t prepared for.

Unisa Radio SindiM

HJ Kruger, SindiM and Natalie Rivener

To listen to our interview, click here.

Afterwards, true to form, HJ and I spent an hour talking about writing and story ideas. It’s a writer thing – you get lonely sitting behind your PC screen tapping away at the keys. And, when you finally see someone who can relate, you develop instant verbal diarrhoea and overcome all paranoia about the other author stealing your ideas.

Unisa Radio sign

HJ Kruger and Natalie Rivener taking a shameless selfie…haha

The Flight of the Phoenix – podcast

This is your chance to hear me displaying all kinds of bravado on Release the Geek, the official podcast!


Les (from Release the Geek) actually podcast ambushed me one sunny day while I was at home with my son (who was almost 3 months old at the time)…so, you might get to hear a little baby voice here and there. *blush*

All in all, I think it went quite well. And I put my foot in my mouth less often than usual.

Click here to listen to the podcast!

The Flight of the Phoenix – Authors

Last but not least is HJ Kruger. I met this multi-talented artist/writer/designer during my university years. He is an absolutely fascinating creature and I have spent much time marvelling at his art (photography, paintings, stories, designs and more).

He has slaved away hours working on cover and banner designs for The Flight of the Phoenix and we are eternally grateful for his fantastic work.

Here is his interview:

How has your participation in The Flight of the Phoenix changed your approach to writing?
Let me start by saying what an amazing experience it’s been collaborating on this anthology. Flight of the phoenix taught me to be more focused in my writing and also to be more flexible. In developing a story specifically tailored for a publication I leaned to be receptive to constructive criticism and respect the creative process. The best thing of working on this project was the support and developmental feedback from the publisher, Siygrah Books, that always assured me that my story was in the best possible hands from the start.

Is writing a short story much different from screenwriting?
Screen writing is a lot more structured with a more defined format. The use of adverbs and inner dialogue, especially narration, is widely discouraged. Because a screenplay is never supposed to be a piece of literature by itself, it should rather be looked at as the creation of a blueprint that will guide and aid the filming process. When writing a short story I feel a lot freer to explore the minds of my characters and describe their inner realms, something that is sadly absent when you have to tell a story visually.

As the cover designer of the anthology, what was your biggest challenge?
The original image was a stunning hand-drawn image by Elsabé Viljoen; my biggest challenge was to reinvent the image to better suit the market and genre expectations and I think that the process was well worth it and yielded a image that both me and the publisher were happy with.

Get into contact with HJ Kruger:

The Flight of the Phoenix – Authors

Ahhh, Richard. The man who set me on the next journey in my writing career. He’s one of those guys who will charm the socks off you. I can’t help but listen to his advice. Heck, today I came home with a tub of coconut oil and a packet of coconut flour just because he was telling me about its amazing baking applications.

Initially, I actually met him because he was my middle sister’s best friend’s little brother (at the time, all I really knew about him was that he kept a rat called Rattex). Try that for a tongue twister! Say “my middle sister’s best friend’s little brother” six times fast!

He kept popping up in my life and I never suspected that he would one day be writing right along with me…and that I would learn so much from him.

Here’s what he had to say when I asked him a few questions:

What was the biggest lesson you learned as a contributor to the anthology?

Each writing project teaches you something about yourself, but a collaborative project can acquaint you with your limits. Limits of personal time management, limits of personal leadership and, more importantly, the limitless potential of a collaborative effort. Writing is usually a solitary affair, but when writing for an anthology it’s not just you. Your work needs to match up to others, so you naturally up your game.

An anthology gives you an opportunity that you also don’t always have readily available, access to other writers and an overarching volume editor. These two parties also have a stake in the quality of the anthology, so they tend to provide focussed and valuable feedback to your work, and you to theirs.

If you have the opportunity to write for an anthology, I’d recommend it. Your co-authors will make you a better writer, and hopefully, so will you them.

What are your current writing projects?

It’s a pretty exciting time, actually. I am writing a series with a co-author, the talented Carmen Dominique Taxer, and simultaneously blogging about the process of writing, post-production, publication, and marketing the series on I have the aim of doing this full-time, as opposed to trying to squeeze it in between full-time drudgery at a traditional nine to five. We’re going full indie, taking responsibility for every facet of the creative process. Marketing is creative too! I’m hoping that the non-fiction work will be of some help to others who walk the same path as we are.

The series itself is something that I believe will have seen the light of day if the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing world had their say. The beauty of indie authorpreneurship is the ability to do what you want, when you want to, and not being beholden to someone else’s idea of what will be “worthy” for publication. If traditional publishers were honest with themselves, they would admit that they have no idea what makes one book explode onto the bookshelves of every home in the world and another fizzle back down into obscurity.

The series is called Sanguinem Emere, (which is an archaic legal term that, loosely translated, means redemption bought through blood). It is a Gaslight Vamp series which draws from diverse inspirations, such as from the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles to A Song of Ice and Fire, to the Steampunk genre, to the classics’ Gothic Horror. Like I said, traditional publishers would have had no idea what to do with this.

If an aspiring author approaches you about writing their first novel, what advice would you share?

ABC. Always Be Creating. There is a reason that the first episode of the Dauntless Writing Podcast is on this topic. The rest of the stuff will follow, just get yourself in the seat and write. Even if you think your writing is no good, even if you think you have a bunch of other stuff to do first, like reading up on craft or publishing. Write, because the best way to get better is by writing. Read up, by all means, but never let that stop you from putting words on paper.

Priority number one is Always Be Creating. You can always make it better later as you learn new skills and techniques.

Contact Richard T Wheeler

His personal website

Dauntless Writing

Vampire Bibliographica



Twitter – @RichTWheeler