Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mentor As Anything.

A month or so ago I decided to apply for the Mentor Program run by the Australian Horror Writers' Association. Last night I received word I'd been accepted - making me a Mentee, or is it Mentoree.  Either way, I'm completely over the moon.

I was required to submit an application form, a statement of why I wished to be included, and 1000 word sample. I also was asked to name the three Mentors I'd like to have as my guru.  A tough choice indeed, looking at the names that were offered up.  In the end I listed Paul Haines - because I'd met him at Continuum 6 and really enjoyed his writing, Jason Nahrung - because I'd met him at a minicon and had bought his book (Haven't read it, yet) and Stephen Dedman, because I'd bought all the issues of Borderlands.

I'd have been thrilled with any of these guys, or any of the others up for offer.  I wasn't even sure I'd be selected, and so you can only imagine my thrill when I received the email telling me Paul Haines was taking me on.

Yay!  Thanks AHWA, Marty Young and Paul Haines.  I look forward to learning so much over the next three months.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

As I Muse On Where's Fit To Print.

It's no secret I love my books.  I have a couple of rooms where floor to ceiling shelves house them, and I just love looking at them. I love the feel of them, to hold them in my hands and look at their design. Some, obviously more than others. And being into Spec Fic, the cover artwork is of prime importance. Maybe you can't always judge a book by its cover but I've certainly bought books based on their cover art. Design, layout and typography are just as important for me. I've paid more for a British edition over a budget US edition based on the printing inside - even though the text was identical, word for word.

I subscribe to a couple of mags, just for the pleasure of regularly receiving new writings and artwork. Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, even the e-zine Intergalactic Medicine Show - and I look forward to their arrival in my mailbox- real or virtual. For me, however, reading physical texts is a joy - something to savour, an experience that utilises more than one sense. Even the smell of certain old books adds to the experience. I certainly don't enjoy reading text on a screen anywhere near as much.

Which is one of the reasons why I submit my work to print mags rather than e-mags.

I'm an old-school reading kind of guy. And while I logically understand some of the e-mags are as reputable and have standards just as high as print mags, there seems to be something more real about having been published on paper. I know that I won't truly consider myself on the way until I can hold a magazine or book in my hands and see my name on the Table of Contents. Maybe that's old fashioned thinking - but I still have the notion that any fool can stick a story online whereas there are generally checks and balances before you hit the presses. And it seems to impress the relations, friends and rubes more when they can hold it.

Sure, Intergalactic Medicine Show may receive my subs in the future, but in the meantime I'll keep sending my stuff off to the print zines.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Read As Much As You Can.

I know I've briefly mentioned Paul Haines before, but I've now read both of his books and I cannot recommend them enough. I picked up Slice of Life late last year but it took me while to get around to it - not for any reason except I have a lot of books I need to get around to. Which reminds me. The next two books I read will have to be texts I teach, not books of my own choosing - Year of Wonders and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. After that, of course, I'll be back into the stack next to my bed.

Slice of Life was wonderful. I loved almost everything about it. There was only one story in there that didn't 'click' with me, and funnily enough a friend of mine picked the same story as the only flat spot. But overall it was an absolute joy to read through so I hunted out Paul's earlier book, Doorways for the Dispossessed.

A few stories appeared in both books, but I could live with that - they tended to be the better stories so I happy to re-read them anyway. The selection of stories didn't feel as unified and their ordering didn't seem to flow as well. (I presume he had a smaller body of work from which to choose) There were a number of typos throughout the book - but fortunately that didn't distract too much. It's also obvious his writing isn't as developed as in the later stories, but it was still a great read. Both are recommended!

Another book I picked up was another collection by a local author. I'd read good things about this book, it had some great endorsements on the back by a couple of authors I know personally and a couple of others I've read, and it's on a local imprint that I respect. Unfortunately, it seemed like the book contained every single word he'd ever written. I enjoyed a number of the stories, but too many of them relied on poor puns and jokes that were nowhere near as funny as the writer thought they were. The book should have been around half its size, and then we'd have had a book I'd be recommending.

Why don't I mention it by name?  Because the guy is a good writer and I liked enough of it that I don't want to put people off. I know writing styles often come down to a matter of taste and preference, and I recognise that this book is one that has merit and while I was disappointed in aspects of it, others might love the parts I didn't.

And because I'm only starting out in this field and I don't want to 'dis' local writers, editors and publishers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Marking, Marking, Marking...

Ah, the joys of being a teacher.

In the past two weeks I have marked 105 senior essays, 60 short stories, 50 posters, and 45 character studies.  I've also written around 145 reports and proofread around 400.  If I never see a student's progress report as long as I live I would be very happy.

Of course it doesn't end there.  I have another 45 essays to mark in the coming week. But then after that I get the semester break. And during that time I have my own writing to complete.

I'm not trying to elicit sympathy - just explain why this is a day late. And to explain to some friends why I haven't seen them much recently.

Oh well, back to marking. See you on the other side.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's My Birthday And I'll Dance If I Want To...

I went to La Mama in Carlton on the weekend.  What a fabulous venue it is.  I used to go there a whole lot more often, back when I was studying literature, drama and theatre at university. But time steals by and years pass without making the effort to visit this icon of Melbourne theatre.

It was my birthday on the weekend and my wife and I spent the time in the city. We started in Brunswick Street where we browsed and I bought a few books and CDs before checking into our hotel. A bit of time spent around the shops in the CBD before heading out to Lygon Street. A few more bookshops, a couple more purchases and into a Spanish Restaurant where the food was average, the lights were dark, but the beer was great. And then to La Mama, where my wife had booked us tickets. Something Natural but Very Childish combined my love of the theatre with my love of Katherine Mansfield. Reading the program, it seems the director, Gary Abrahams, and I seem to have a great deal in common - except he's a very talented and creative director and I'm not. The cast was stunning, the set was minimal, and the atmosphere was - well, La Mama. The show is strongly recommended.

On Sunday we slept in, had a look around the State Library and the fantastic exhibitions there before a late lunch at a restaurant on Southbank. Off to Nova for a foreign film (The Secret in their Eyes - recommended) before I met up with a friend at a pub in the city. My wife decided to pull the pin at this point. Late night noodles and a pint or two (lager, lager, lager) and my friend and I hit the Rod Laver Arena to see Underworld live. And what a great show! (Check out the new track, Scribble - it's fantastic)

My friend 'rave' danced, I sort of self-consciously moved around a bit, and we both sang along and clapped a lot.

All in all a wonderful weekend and a great birthday.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Trudging Through Slush?

I recently had a couple of people suggest I take up slushreading for a magazine. They told me how much it would help my writing by not only seeing the mistakes that other people make but by seeing how well other people write. They also told me how much it had helped their writing.

I understand what they're saying, but I don't have time to take on slushreading.

As for seeing how well other people write, I do that anyway. I read a phenomenal number of books and subscribe to three or four magazines. And as for the mistakes side of it, well hey - I teach English in high school.

I love my writing, but I'm a little concerned I can't devote enough time to it now - never mind taking on the responsibilities of slushreading. I have the greatest respect for people who are prepared to take on this task - and this is despite the completely inane, childish and unsophisticated comments I've received on stories from a couple of them. (And I must point out it was only a couple of them.)

Also bear in mind that as a writer I'm frustrated by the amount of time some of these markets take to reject a story. I've got one story now at its third market - the first two submissions took eight months each to respond. And as I currently don't have enough time to take slushreading on properly, I'd feel guilty about contributing to delays for some other writer.

Over this current two week period I have around 105 essay to marks, 50 short stories, 50 posters and two novels to read, study and be ready to teach next week. And that's on top of the normal preparation I need to do for my classes. And somewhere in between all that I'm also trying to have a life, write a couple of my own stories, edit a couple more that need it, and research markets and submit.

I think I read enough examples of both good and poor work to more than make up for it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Four Down, Thirteen To Go?

Writers of the Future has finally announced the winners from Q1, and I must say I was pleased to see Brennan Harvey's name in first place. I wrote a little about him back in April. good to see he just kept submitting. Congratulations, Brennan - and well done to the others.  I, of course, missed out again - but we already knew that.

I've been reading Iterations, by Robert J. Sawyer. I enjoyed it, but I must say I much prefer his long fiction to his short stories. There was, however, one part of the book that I think is essential reading for every budding writer.

In his introduction to the story Lost in the Mail, he mentioned the history of the piece. Not only did it come second place in the Aurora Awards, it also got rave reviews and was selected for reprinting in a number of Anthologies. But it was only originally published after he received 17 rejection slips. Seventeen!  At that stage of his career I'm fairly certain he'd have been submitting only to pro-markets, and yet 17 editors saw fit not to publish a piece that went on to do so well.

So there is hope yet for some of the pieces that I and others hold in high regard. The scary thing is that with the apparent current trend of editors taking 7 or 8 months to respond (even after polite email enquiries) seventeen rejections means it might take 14 years to get this particular story published.

But that's OK - I have to accept that's the system. It'll be worth it in the end, and I still have plenty others simmering along nicely.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's Really Real Anyway?

I'm currently teaching my senior English students a philosophical-based unit as part of their state-assessed course. Unfortunately the texts that we have to choose from are not particularly good, not especially interesting or current, and not suited to the theme of "Whose Reality?". (Yes, the question mark is theirs. Some committee's idea of appearing more academic than it actually is.)

A Streetcar Names Desire (while still a classic) is dated. And, culturally, not really relevant to Australian teens. The Shark Net, a boring book at best, is extremely limited in its application to the reality context.

So why aren't we reading Science Fiction? Isn't this the genre that actually explores concepts like this in amazing and thought provoking ways?

How about Philip K. Dick's versions of reality as a text? Or a seminal work by just about any other SF writer from the past 40 or 50 years?

But there is still that weird prejudice against genre fiction. And yet these are the same people that paid money to see Avatar, Alien, ET, Lord of the Rings, The Road, and hundreds of other SF or Fantasy films. I even know a couple of teachers who have told me they hate SF, and yet raved about a film they'd seen.  When I pointed out it was SF, they denied it - cos it didn't have spaceships and robots in it.

But even if they don't wish to include SF on the booklist, there are still better books than this.

Oh well, We can but only educate these people one at a time.  Join the revolution...