Sunday, May 30, 2010

Think Global, Go Local.

One of the things I'm really enjoying at the moment is reading local authors.

I've been paying attention to some of the small publishers here in Australia, and I'm discovering that not only is their production standard extremely high (layout, editing, artwork and so on) but they often publish writers that are either emerging (meaning I'll have a collector's item on my hands once they make it), or the offbeat and interesting stuff that major publishers don't have time for.

I love reading a local book and recognising places or situations, or some of those little in-jokes that only a native would understand.

My first real experience with this was when I bought a second-hand copy Striped Holes by Damien Broderick back in the early 90s while living in Tokyo. I'd never heard of him before, but it had a cool cover and was cheap in a land where imported books were very expensive.  Imagine my surprise when halfway through the book he mentioned Bourke Street, Melbourne, and some of the shops situated there. In fact, I seem to recall I was rather excited by it.

Do yourself a favour and check out Tasmaniac, MirrorDanse, Agog!, 12th Planet, CSFG, Ticonderoga, and all the others I can't think of at the moment.

Oh yeah, and my horoscope says I have good things happening this week.  It must be true, after all they wouldn't publish lies in a newspaper, would they?

p.s. - and they said it wouldn't last!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

I recently broke one of my own rules.  I couldn’t help it – I was tricked into it.

Many years ago, after a couple of bad experiences, I decided I would never again buy self-published books - unless it was recommended to me by someone whose judgement I trust.  The last of those books I read actually had a page of editor's notes published in the middle of the novel – quite bizarre. But mostly the ones I’d read (I’d picked them up second-hand) were poorly written, unimaginative and, frankly, boring.  There’s a reason publishers apparently rejected those manuscripts.

Over the past few years I’ve read about some of these self-publishers, and how much it costs the writer to get his work published.  Very expensive, and lots of promises about how they’ll sell millions of them. Ultimately, they generally blame the writer for poor sales, charge even more money, then own the copyright for ridiculously long periods.  Every professional writer I’ve ever met has warned people away from self-publishing through these companies.

There have, of course, been exceptions. I believe Matthew Reilly self-published his first novel. But generally if your manuscript is good enough to sell, someone will pick it up.  Sure, you might have to persevere but publishers are in the business to make a profit. And money should always flow down to the writer, not from the writer up.

But I was tricked. The writer was friendly and confident, the cover was well designed and looked far superior to other self-publications I’d seen, it was on an imprint I didn’t recognise and the blurb read well. I figured it was a new small local press – and I’m always happy to support them. But then I opened the pages.  Blah! What a mistake! They guy can’t construct narrative or dialogue, it sorely needed an editor to lose all the commas that packed every sentence and the characters were unimaginative and cliched.

You have to be realistic about your own abilities.  Just because your Mum says it’s good, or you won a gold star for it in school, doesn’t make you Stephen King. If several publishers turns it down there’s probably a good reason beyond “they just don’t get me.”

As for me, that book is gone – and I’m now going to tackle one of the books I bought at Vampirefest.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fangs A Lot...

Yesterday I spent the day at Vampirefest 2010, the mini-convention run by the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. There were lots of friends and acquaintances, and plenty of vendors too (and yes, I bought a few bits and pieces). I also chatted with a few people I've seen at different conventions but never actually been introduced to before, and was fortunate enough to meet some new people as well.

I saw Trudi Canavan and Lucy Sussex, and met Edwina Harvey, Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott for the first time. All of them delightful, of course.  I'm sure they do exist, but I've yet to meet a writer in the speculative fiction genre that isn't friendly, encouraging, and happy to chat.

Jason and Kirstyn both made presentations, Star Wars and Star Trek clubs had to be kept apart by the Dr. Who fan club armed only with a blow-up Dalek.  The Browncoats set up at the back of the room, and a stormtrooper arrived and kept everyone in check. And we got to talk about Vampires!

A splendid time was held by all.  And I can't wait for Aussiecon in September.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Making Plans For...

I've been reading Slice of Life by Paul Haines. And I'm really digging it!

I originally bought this in the middle of last year, read the first story and then put the book back in the stack of 'to reads'. At the time I really enjoyed what I read - even though the suburbs in this horror story are all extremely familiar to me. No, it didn't stop me taking my local train.

Now I've finally picked it up and started through the rest of it and can't put it down.

I was fortunate enough to meet Paul a few months ago at Continuum 6 - sat in on a couple of his sessions, watched him win an award., introduced myself and spoke to him - he even remembered my name from when I'd ordered the book. And I really liked the guy.

But now that I'm halfway through this collection of short stories, I'm in awe.  What a fabulous selection of short stories. Do yourself a favour (sez Molly) and buy this book. (from here)

After all, I've never yet met an XTC fan I haven't liked. (I'm a little curious as to which is the obscure album he refers to...)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Want To Join Team Bella?

I spent the weekend down at Apollo Bay with the rest of my family.

My sister-in-law, Clare, passed away after a 7 year fight with cancer in November last year. She was 36. While she was still with us, a family friend, Peter Lister, decided he would run the Great Ocean Road Marathon and try to raise a few thousand dollars for cancer research. From this seed grew Team Bella - a consortium of family and friends who decided to support Peter's vision - some by running in various events, some by simply coming along and supporting, most by donating money.

It was quite emotional at times - watching my brother run through the finish line with his 'Clare' tattoo on his shoulder.  I'd never seen it before. I was extremely proud of my young nephew, who ran the 14k event in an excellent time. Clare's immediate family all ran, as well as most of mine. I was thrilled that so many other people were there to support this excellent cause and to show their love for Clare.

Even the commentators joined in, giving Team Bella a plug every time one of our runners finished. I was told we had 60 runners in the different events.

Apparently Brain Cancer research is the lowest funded cancer research in Australia. Well, thanks to the tiny seed Peter planted all those months ago, They are about to be $28,726 better off.

It's not enough, but it's a start.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trying To Hit A Home Run.

The winners of the Writers of the Future contest should be announced any day  now. Not that I'm in the mix.  My last submission was an outright reject

Occasionally I wonder whether it's simply a case of K.D.Wentworth not liking my writing style. (And please, let me be clear here.  I am not disparaging K.D. in ANY way.) As Co-ordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future competition, she's the one who decides who gets what and where each story goes.  Of course the contest is judged blind, and from all accounts (several people in the know have told me) Ms. Wentworth is simply delightful and completely professional. I'm certainly not casting any aspersions on her integrity.

I know I can write well. And I'm not just one of those writers who over-estimate their own abilities. I see that often enough with students at school where I teach Senior English. I've had amazing comments from several professional editors and writers (some are even names you would recognise) who have told me my stories are excellent. (And I know for a fact these people meant it - others around me were told very different things about their writing.) Unfortunately, the editors that have passed (and they gave me personal notes and said they reluctantly passed) did so on the grounds that my stories didn't fit their format.

But ultimately I don't have the runs on the board. I haven't sold anything yet - although I do currently have two stories on hold - one at a pro-magazine. And both of these stories were outright rejects at WOTF.

Not for a minute am I suggesting they should have won the contest - in fact I now realise that both stories had minor flaws when I submitted them. Other editors noticed some of these and with their feedback I was able to repair them with a change of around 15 words each. But I do wonder why they weren't even worth an Honorable Mention. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way of finding out where the judge decided they didn't succeed.

No judge can ever be truly objective - personal tastes will always come into play. And K.D. has recently pointed out some of the things she likes to see in stories (which is fair enough) although ultimately I would hope it's not about whether the winning stories are ones that match K.D's likes. They should simply good, well-told stories. I can certainly see where my stories didn't appeal to the judge. And having read all the WOTF volumes (1-25), I must point out the contest standard is high and has been improving each year.

I'm currently writing a story that is more tailored to the contest than ever before. It's still my voice, but the narrative seems to be one that better fits K.D's likes. Still, only time will tell.  Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps I'm really not up to scratch - not even an HM. Ironically the only HM I received was for a story that others didn't like and even I felt wasn't up to standard.

Perhaps I should write something I hate.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wilco (the concert).

It must be difficult to follow in your father's footsteps and always face comparison with him. I followed my father into his line of work for a few years, and that was hard enough. But to be in the entertainment business and have the public spotlight on you all the time must surely be extremely difficult.

And what if you don't live up to that scrutiny - or expectation?

I didn't blog last Wednesday as I usually do, because I wasn't really at home for a few days.  I was at work, and then in the city for dinner, and then off to a Wilco concert, and home by 1 a.m. for a few hours sleep before I did the same thing all over again. And it was wonderful.

The support act was Liam Finn, and I was quite looking forward to him. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. I thought his songs were bland, lacking in melody, formulaic and filled with dull trite lyrics. I know a lot of people seem to like him, but he did nothing for me.  And then to make things worse he decided to bring out a "special guest" - sorry, Liam, but a friend of yours with the charisma of month old asparagus and the musical ability of the old deaf pet dog I had as a kid, does not really constitute a "special guest".

I later read up on this guy, and it seems like he has quite a following. Which I can't really understand.  Oh well, each their own - and we all have different tastes.....

And then Wilco exploded on stage - and tore the place apart. And from the first song to the last, over two and a half hours later, they gave all. Both nights were absolutely stunning. In hindsight, the first night seemed a little more sedate, as the audience and the band were a little flat - energy-wise. But on the second night they kicked it up a couple of gears and hit us with the knock-out punch.


I was standing in front of the stage at the first show, and then up behind and to the left of the mixing desk for the second. Right behind the VIP section. As usual, it was filled with lots of "VIPs" I didn't recognise. They also didn't seem all that interested in the concert. They certainly spent a lot of time talking to each other, hugging, texting, talking more, texting more, and trying to pick up. Later some of them decided to try and create a dance step for one of the songs.  They also made the heavy metal "wolf's head" symbol with their hands (at an Alt-Country concert), yelled out a lot, and texted still more. I've never seen so many i-Phones gathered in the one place. They were also the only ones that didn't sing along with the songs - probably because they've never heard them before.

I guess some of them might have been friends of the promoter, or whatever, but the others....

I must say I noticed an odd kind of yellow pus that welled from the pores of some of these VIPs. It  oozed down their bodies, then dripped from their noses, elbows and other extremities. I later tried to grab some of this stuff for analysis but it had gone - evaporated into the ether like ectoplasm.

It doesn't matter, though. I think I know what it was.  I suspect it was record company slime.

But you never know -  I might be wrong.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Teach Your Children Well.

I can clearly remember the first time I really heard Deep Purple. I was a teenager and was camping with my friend, Johnny. We'd taken a bus up to Eildon and were staying in a tent. During the day we'd fly fish, and then at night we'd sit around the fire eating and listening to music on one of those radio/cassette players that started to slow down after a while when the batteries were going flat. Then we'd switch to the radio. We spent a lot of time listening to Blondie, The Police and Fleetwood Mac on that trip. I remember it well.

One evening we hung out with another fishermen we'd met during the day. We sat and talked and tied flies. And he was playing Made in Japan on his cassette player. That was the first time I really heard Deep Purple.

I remember being completely blown away.

I remember trading my Kiss album (Dynasty) for a copy of  Made in Japan a couple of weeks later at school.

I remembered all this last night at Festival Hall as I saw Deep Purple for the 7th time.

I haven't seen my school friend, Johnny, for almost 30 years now - but I went to this show with current friends, and they loved it as much as I did.  The band was tight - really tight. And they seemed to be having a wonderful time making music together.

I last saw them about two years ago, and then two years previous to that. And both times they were good, but not a patch on 84, 99 or 2001.  But last night. Wow! They were smoking, and sounded the best I've heard them in 10 years.

The concert was filled with middle aged people (mostly men) with a fair spattering of teens and kids. And as we walked out you could almost see parents saying to their kids, "See? Now THAT'S good music."

Deep Purple - five guys who can play the crap out of their instruments and sing like there's no tomorrow.  Ok, I have no doubt artists like Pink put on an entertainment extravaganza, but listen up, kids.  You want to hear music? Real music? Go camping, and bring along a copy of Made in Japan.

p.s. - Looks like James Hird was right all along.  Right?