Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Aim For The Stars.

Last week, while down in Rye, I was able to find a couple of Op Shops (or Charity Shops as they are called in the UK) with semi-decent books for sale.  Yes, I picked up a few, but that’s nothing new.  I always do. But as I perused the pictured shelves, I realised just how many books existed by authors I’ve never heard of.

I know of quite a few authors.  I teach English at a College. I have a degree in Literature, and another in English Education. I’ve spent three years working part-time in a bookshop, funding my way through University. I’ve also spent half my life browsing these shops. And yet there are literally thousands of authors with published books that I don’t recognise and that no-one really knows.

Writers like J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown are the exceptions, yet people presume that if your name is on a book, you’ve made money. Very few published authors get to make their entire living by writing novels alone.

I remember one day when I was working in the Uni Bookshop, a customer came in looking for a book on how to write a screenplay. I asked him if he had a great idea that he needed to get down.  He told me he didn’t actually have any idea yet, but surely writing a screenplay would make him very rich and he could quit work.  I told him that perhaps he needed to look into the publishing and film world a little more closely.

I sold him a book anyway.

Looking at some of those names on the bookshelves, I wondered how many of them made a living from their books. I guess at some point they were all thrilled to be published, and, thought they were ‘on the way’.

Did people buy those books?  Were they remaindered within the first six months? As writers we can’t afford to rest on our laurels, seeing your name in print, seeing your writing on a shelf somewhere, even being recognised or commented on by someone.

I guess we need to have a series of goals, each one higher than the previous one, and just keep working towards them. I know what I want. I'll keep shooting off stories to Writers of the Future. And as an old friend of mine once told me, ‘Aim for the stars, even if you only hit the chimney.’

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Few Days Away.

I've spent the past four days staying in a friend's holiday house down by the beach at Rye. Although we had a wonderful relaxing time, my wife was still a little disappointed. Here it is spring, but the weather has been very wintery.  Not only was it cold and mostly wet, we've also had a few days of extremely strong winds.

My wife and I took the dogs out most days for long walks along the beach.  They loved it, but we had to keep an eye out to make sure they didn't decide to roll in something dead, as dogs are wont to do. And be aware that due to the ceaseless vigilance of one of my dogs, our shoreline on the peninsula is safe from invasion by birds.  She ran after every bird she saw.  Don't worry, she never got close enough to even worry them.

I was even able to spend an hour or so luxuriating in hot springs. It was wonderful to sit in the hot spring water with a light rain falling, overlooking some beautiful landscapes.  We visited Box Stallion, a winery with some very beautiful wines, and we were able to restock our cellar.  I would also recommend Bamboo, a restaurant in Rye. We met up with some friends, and each one of us thoroughly enjoyed every course of our meal.  The service was very good too.

I ended up not getting any writing done. I wanted to spend as much time with my wife as I could so I grabbed the opportunity to do that.  I promise, procrastination had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Does it matter that my Q3 entry for Writers of the Future still needs some work?  I have three more days to get it in the mail, don't I? At least I came away with a stack of notes and ideas for future stories.

Speaking of WOTF, they have started posting Q3 results.  Congratulations to Felicity Dowker and to several of my Forum mates for their HMs.  Special congratulations to Jason Fischer for winning first place for his Q2 story. Good to see Aussies doing well. 

But enough from me.  Back to the keyboard to finish my story.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Future Writer Of The Future?

I'd hoped to have completed another draft of my current story by now but I didn't get as much writing done as I'd planned over the past two days. The end of the month is marching towards us now, which means the deadline for the fourth quarter of the Writers of the Future competition is looming. I have some serious work ahead of me over the next ten days to lash this beast into a better story.

With a week to go before the Q2 deadline I had serious misgivngs about that story, so I spent a couple of days working on it and mailed it with only a day or so to go.  That story received an Honourable Mention and a certificate.  At the moment, the third quarter stories are still at the judging level. WOTF recently had huge celebrations for their 25th Anniversary, and so things have been delayed slightly.  Hopefully we'll start to hear some results soon. And if you haven't been over to the WOTF site and checked out the video footage of the award ceremonies, have a look.  I really enjoyed it.

I should also once again congratulate Emery Huang and Jordan Lapp, two winners from the 25th volume.  I know there were other winners but I almost feel as if I know these two guys a little as they've both been regulars over at the WOTF forums.  I've encountered ("met" and "know" seem like strange words to use for forum-world) both over there and they seem like good guys. I really look forward to reading their stories. Emery also walked off with the grand prize, and from all accounts deservedly so.

I've ordered Volume 25 and it should be on its way to me by now.  The timing is just about perfect.  I'm halfway through Volume 24 and will finish it in the next day or so. In the past year I've read all the volumes, in order, and it's been interesting to see the growth of the competition. The quality of entries and winners has improved and from time to time I found stories that showed now established writers at their beginnings. Perhaps in a few years Emery and Jordan will have work in bookstores, and I'll be able to say "I encountered them way back when." So far, there's only one winning story that I haven't yet read.  I believe back in Volume 1 the rules weren't as clear as they are now, and one winner's story had previously been published elsewhere.  I'll have to dig that one up.

In the meantime I'll just keep plugging away, honing my skills, improving my writing, submitting to magazines and entering the competition.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's Been A Long, Long, Long Time.

Once before I've written about how much I'd love to see Andy Partridge get together with Terry Scott Taylor to produce the perfect album.

Terry is currently on tour, and if I had the money I'd bring him down under to perform. He's one of my greatest idols, but I've never had the chance to see him perform in any of his incarnations. (Daniel Amos, The Swirling Eddies, The Lost Dogs or solo)  He doesn't tour that often (although vastly more often than Andy Partridge who hasn't really played live since 1982) but rarely plays outside the U.S.

This afternoon I decided TST was precisely the music I needed and so I found myself completely lost in A Briefing for the Ascent.  Although I know exactly how wonderful this disc is, the truth is I haven't played it for a long time. A Long, long, long time.  In fact he covers Long, Long Long, the vastly underated George Harrison song from the White Album.

Long, Long, Long is an amazing love song.  It is, in fact, the song I chose to have played at my wedding. And although TST's version is a completely faithful clone (right down to the drum fills) it works amazingly well and sits perfectly in the concept album that is A Briefing for the Ascent

It's the start of the school holidays for me.  Two glorious weeks off without worrying about the kids, and a much-needed chance to recharge before the final term for the year. I've promised myself the next two days to spend entirely on writing, but this afternoon was relax time. A glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in hand, my wife doing some gardening, a Nepalese Keema Curry on the stovetop and Terry's wonderful album playing (loudly)  in the background, I had the most delightful time.

Life doesn't get any better than this on a mild Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dust To Dust.

My mum had a birthday today and my best friend's mother passed away last week.

I took my mum out to dinner last night to celebrate her birthday a day early.  I couldn't visit her tonight, as I had parent teacher interviews and was tied up explaining to parents that little Johnny needs to put his head down and do some work.  My dad still laughs at this every year, as he recalls me sitting on the other side of the interview table when I was a teenager. (Ironically at the same school I now teach at!) Anyway, with my mum, my wife and my dad, I drove up to Healesville and had a lovely dinner.  We told stories, laughed, talked about the future and had a great time.

All this, only six hours after standing at a graveside.

Is it only me that silently mouths "Funk to funky" whenever a preacher says "Ashes to ashes"?  I stood at the grave and watched the casket glide down into the earth.  The beautiful hills sprawled across the horizon and I felt the warmth of the spring sun on my back.  For a moment I felt guilty as I basked and enjoyed.  My best friend stood a few metres away, obviously overwhelmed.  I tried sending good and supportive vibes in her direction.  I hope she caught them.

The funeral was lovely - as lovely as funerals can be.  I think I'm getting to the age where I tend to catch up with some old friends only at the passing of another. Between my mum and my friend's mum, Jean, I spent a lot of yesterday in the past.  I've known Jean for 40 years. She was always lovely to me, always asked after me, was always concerned about me.  Even as recently as a few weeks ago, as she lay in hospital, she asked about my wife and I.  And although I didn't get to go and visit her, I asked after her too.

So the day ended up with me thinking about life, mortality and grabbing opportunities.

I owe my best friend more than I could ever repay.  She's taught me a great deal about life, living, taking risks and chasing dreams.  She's responsible for a great deal of what I've done over the past ten years, and has (until my wife took on the role a couple of years ago) been my greatest supporter and most active encourager.

She's the reason I teach, act and write.  And a great deal of her encouragement can be directly traced back to her Mum.

Jean, I raise a glass to you tonight. Time to rest now.  And Mum, Happy Birthday.  I truly hope you're around for many, many more.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making Minimal Contact.

A few years ago, I bought The Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart Thornton.  With every intention of reading them soon thereafter, they were placed in the metaphorical stack of books next to my not-so-metaphorical bed.  For a number of reasons, none of which seem particularly clear at the moment, I've never gotten around to reading these three books, The Ill-Made Mute, The Lady of the Sorrows and The Battle of Evernight. (OK, so the last one sounds like it should be a Led Zeppelin song....)

On Friday night, I wandered down to the Melbourne Science Fiction Club where Cecilia was the guest speaker for the evening. After catching up with a few familiar faces, I settled down to listen to the amazing tale of how she became a full-time writer. None of this is secret or new as it's easily found online, but it's incredible hearing the tale direct from the source. Basically she wrote the three novels for herself, stuck them in a drawer for a couple of years before finally putting a sample chapter online with a crit group.  Within a short time an editor had contacted her, she had an agent and a U.S. publisher paid her a six-figure advance for her books. It's always good to see a local do well, and while I realise her story and success is the exception rather than the rule, it is encouraging and inspiring.

Cecilia was completely lovely and charming. She answered our questions patiently (I'm sure she's heard all of them before), laughed at our lame jokes and smiled and nodded politely as the conversation diverted wildly off-topic. I learned a great deal from her professionalism and her attitude. I truly believe it's important for a writer to present well and to always behave professionally. Earlier this year I attended a publishing seminar where I was left completely unimpressed by several of the presented authors.  They weren't particularly articulate, didn't seem to have much to say and were generally repetitive and used extremely well worn cliches. Two of them arrived dressed as though they'd just spent the day working on the car. And this was for a large gathering of teachers at the offices of a major publisher that was trying to convince us to buy these books for our schools.

An author as successful as Cecilia doesn't have to guest at a small SF group like ours, but in the SF and F world this is what authors do.  They all seem to be fanboys and fangirls deep down, and they can recall when they would read this stuff and wonder. They used to be like us (and still are at heart!). Cecilia even talked about the fan letter she once sent to Tanith Lee

I've never sent anyone a fan letter, but I've often wondered exactly what some of my 'heroes' would be like in real life.  Over the years I've been fortunate enough to have met a few names, but there are some I can only wish I could have met. It's too late now to meet people like Asimov, or PKD (I still marvel at hearing a PKD story firsthand from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) or George Harrison, although there are still a few people in the literature and music world I would seriously love to meet.  Robert Silverberg is high on my list, as are Andy Partridge and Terry Scott Taylor. And from what I hear Tim Powers has a few PKD anecdotes up his sleeve. I need to win WOTF so I can attend one of his workshops, so I'll just keep writing and submitting. And I'll keep reading in wonder. 

Oh, and I've just dug out the Bitterbynde trilogy and pushed it to the top of that metaphorical stack. I'll get into The Ill-Made Mute as soon as I finish my current WOTF volume.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Number 9, Number 9, Number 9...

Beatles day is here at last, and while I sit at work and wait for the box sets to be delivered, I must confess to having already sourced and heard many of the remasters already.


The clarity of the bass, the crispness of the handclaps, the sheen of the cymbals. And those harmonies. Wow. You can almost see the boys standing face to face in Studio 2, headphones on, singing their hearts out. Grab a disc and cue up some of the tracks where George, John and Paul's voices blend. And prepare to be impressed

These are the albums as they were meant to be heard. The good Doctor himself told me that he thought it was "like wiping the grime off a Mercedes." That's a simile I like, and it's true. I loved that moment of discovering the car I thought I knew so well was shiny all along.

After hearing the discs on a friend's system, I've realised the limitations of my own dvd/cd player. But even though, I'm hearing parts and instruments I've never heard before - and remember, I'm a Beatles freak. I have 8 different versions of Abbey Road, for goodness sakes! Everything from the Brazilian mono release (which runs slow) to the Japanese Black Triangle CD release (the pre-emphasis sounds a little shinier).

So this week will be Beatle listening week in my house. Mono, stereo, old, new. The lot. And as your attorney I would advise you to do the same. Grab a Beatles album and listen like you've never listened before.

Of course there's always more I want to hear. And I'm not just talking about Etcetera, Woman or Carnival of Light. I would also love to listen to Doubleback Alley, Let's Be Natural, Hold My Hand and Cheese & Onions in all their sonic splendour.

So when can we expect The Rutles remasters?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Budding Career?

I had plans to write quite a bit on the weekend, instead I took the opportunity to get out into the garden and do some much needed work.

My wife and I weeded, cut the grass, repaired a bit of edging around garden beds and generally tidied up. The garden looks fantastic. Spring has suddenly arrived. Leaves are starting to bud on the Japanese maples and the flowers are starting to open.

My backyard is an oasis in the middle of suburbia. There is a very natural, peaceful and positive vibe, and it's just a great place to be. Very calming. Over the next few months I might have to retreat outdoors and do some writing there.

And so the next few months promise much. Warmer nights and clearer skies mean I can spend more time out at night with my telescope and fellow astronomers. Less rain means I can venture out onto the Warburton Trail more frequently. It's a beautiful walk and my dogs love it. It'll certainly be more green than this picture I took a few months ago.

And hopefully I'll make more time to write. My recent rejects are already out elsewhere They are in fine shape after minor pruning and weeding (just to keep the gardening theme going) and I have a couple more about to be finished. Plus some new ideas I need to get started. Hopefully some of my current submissions will actually sell and my writing career will take off.


Look for me at the newsagency. Soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Long, Dark Twilight Of The Submission.

I've had two rejection slips in the past three days. And I'm feeling good about them. Both were quite positive about my writing. One of them even included fairly long and detailed notes from the slush reader. Of the comments made, I was able to agree with some of them and I've already started re-editing my story before I send it off again. The story will definitely be better for it.

There were, however, a few points made that I strongly disagreed with. Every person has a different opinion and different tastes, but I felt that perhaps a couple of these criticisms of plot showed a lack of life experience on behalf of the reader.

But that's valid too. If those aspects of the story didn't resonate with this reader, then they need to be looked at again.

The shorter rejection was also quite encouraging.

What I found most frustrating was the waiting. One of the submissions was gone for seven months. If every publication took that long before rejection, I could only submit a story three times in two years. And in future, why would any writer wish to submit a second time to a publication with a wait like that?

My other rejection came after only 35 days or so. That was much cooler.

From what I've seen so far, an acknowledgement of receipt from magazines seems to be the exception rather than the rule. It would be nice to know rather than just presume that your story was received.

But that's the way it is, and we writers have to live and work with it. Yes, I know these magazines get mountains of submissions. And I know most of the editors do it in their spare time for little reward. And I know the market is shrinking. And I know...

I do think, however, that an automated acknowledgement is easily possible, and I definitely think that if responses take a lot longer than submission guidelines state, then those guidelines need to be changed.

It's all positive, though. At least I'm getting rejections. Both those stories will be back out in the marketplace by this evening.

And thanks to the editors for their encouraging words and efforts. I truly appreciate it.