Sunday, December 30, 2012

Faking The Blues.

This week I read an interview with a blues artist I've never heard of before, Eugene Hideaway Bridges. I still haven't had a chance to hear his music, but it was a pretty cool interview. And he said some really interesting things. But there was one quote I especially liked.
"A fake blues is like listening to Dick Van Dyke play an English person in Mary Poppins."
Which is true. You can tell when someone is faking the blues - the same as you can tell when a writer is faking science fiction, or any other genre for that matter. It just doesn't ring true.

Which comes back to 'write what you know.' And know its history.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Why Are They Called Deadlines?

Christmas was quiet, which was great. We had a lot of fun and lots of great food.

How was your Christmas?

This week I am overwhelmed with ideas and excited by possibilities. Unfortunately my free time is limited and deadlines approach.

Writing and re-writing must be done.

I can't talk right now, just be sure I'm working. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mayan Blues.

And so the Mayan apocalypse came and went with barely a blip on the radar. It was a bit of fun, counting down the minutes, but ultimately I don't know anyone who actually took it seriously. Or at least I don't think I do.

Here in the afterlife, things are pretty much the same. The list of stories to be written on my wall is largely unchanged, the stack of books waiting to be read seems larger, even though I get through a couple a week, and most TV is still rubbish. Thank goodness for DVDs.

I've been listening to a lot of old blues. B.B. King, Taj Mahal, James Cotton, Johnny Copeland, Stevie Ray Vaughan - just to name a few. Seems appropriate in this post apocalyptic world.

Remember, the blues ain't nothin' but a feeling.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The World Is Round.

And BANG!, just like that I had an epiphany.

I'm in the middle of a writing workshop and yesterday, while doing an exercise, a whole lot of things suddenly made sense. Structure, character, setting, opening. I can suddenly see how these things need to work together.

I'm all re-energised about my writing. A half-completed story is no longer a problem. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. I expect my writing will improve leaps and bounds over the short term.

Today is the second last day of the school year. I should soon have some free time in which to let my imagination roam free.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Things I Learned This Week.

I've just returned from Adelaide. Unfortunately I wasn't there for the launch of Midnight and Moonshine by Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga) - I left Adelaide mere hours before it commenced. I was on a more dangerous mission - a school trip with almost 60 teenagers. And I learned a number of things during the week.

1. Modern top 40 radio sucks. I spent the week listening to drivel without melody, or lyrics of any substance.

2. Autotune and computerised backing tracks do nothing to improve these so-called songs.

3. Teenage girls, singing (bellowing?) along have the uncanny ability to find those exact frequencies that will grate on your nerves the most.

4. Some people need to learn manners. I do not like rude people. The same applies to those people who lack respect for others, are dishonest, think they know everything, or are incompetent.

5. The kids on the trip from my school were fantastic.

6. I could get used to the feeling of buying a magazine simply to read, and to discover a review of an anthology I'm in. Even if my story wasn't mentioned. (Epilogue, reviewed by Cat Sparks in Cosmos #48)

7. Adelaide is a fun place with lots to do.

And yes, I had a wonderful week - despite one day of illness - and look forward to the opportunity of going again.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vale: Ravi Shankar.

I first heard Ravi Shankar as a teen, when a friend gave me a tape of The Concert For Bangladesh. After that initial playing I tended to skip the first part as I didn't 'get' Indian music. Later, of course, I recognised Shankar for the genius he was, and quite enjoyed listening to his work.

His influence on The Beatles, and George Harrison in particular, is enormous. Although Harrison had first become interested in the sitar during the filming of Help!, it was 1966 before he met Shankar and travelled to India to study with him.

As a musician, a teacher and a lecturer, Shankar toured the world and taught at a number of universities. His work brought international recognition to the music of his homeland.

He died in California at the age of 82.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Little Dreams And The Big Time.

Once a month, my Dad and I watch old movies together. It's great spending time with Dad. The movies are a lot of fun too, and I've learned a lot from them. Not just about plotting, and structure and dialogue, but a couple of quotes from recent movies have hit me recently.

Great lines from a couple of classic movies that really spoke to me.

For Me and My Gal (1942)

Jo Hayden: "You'll never be big time because you're small time in your heart."

A Star Is Born (1954)  

Norman Maine: "Listen to me, Esther, a career is a curious thing. Talent isn't always enough. You need a sense of timing - an eye for seeing the turning point or recognizing the big chance when it comes along and grabbing it. A career can rest on a trifle. Like - like us sitting here tonight. Or it can turn on somebody saying to you, 'You're better than that. You're better than you know.' Don't settle for the little dream. Go on to the big one...Scared? Scared to take the plunge?"
 Motivation anyone?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vale: Sir Patrick Moore.

Sir Patrick Moore, a British astronomer, has died at the age of 89.

He joined the British Astronomical Society at the age of 11, and within three years was running a small observatory. When World War 2 broke out, Moore was only 16, yet he lied about his age and joined the RAF Bomber Command as a flight navigator. During his initial training in Canada, he met both Albert Einstein and Orville Wright while on leave in New York.

Post-war, Moore was heavily involved in mapping the moon's surface. Much of this research was later used by both the Americans and the Soviets.

As the Messier Catalogue was restricted to objects in the Northern Hemisphere, Moore created the Caldwell Catalogue. (Caldwell is his middle name) This list of interesting deep space objects is a wonderful place to start for amateur astronomers.

Moore was an astronomer, researcher, author, TV presenter and radio commentator. But I will remember him for his acting. He played himself in the famous Big Bunny episode on The Goodies.

Times Are Lean.

Several months ago I made two sales in the one day. And a few others around the same time.

It felt good. I shared the news. Alan Baxter told me to enjoy it while it lasted, as I'd enter times that were much quieter.  Now is such a time. I haven't sold a story in around five months, and I must admit it's frustrating me somewhat.

Ironically, I've had a story published in each of the past four months - September, October, November and December. But that's simply indicative of the slow moving cogs that is the publishing business. And apart from one story slated for release in March, the next few months are looking quiet for me.

My time will come. A year from now, when I sell a bunch of stories in as many days I'll be telling you of that as well.

Editors. Stop procrastinating. You know you want my stories.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas.

While I don't like the commercial aspects of Christmas (and I have taken big steps to minimise my financial involvement) it is a time of year I do quite enjoy.

Here in Australia, Christmas is bang in the middle of summer. Christmas lights don't really work to create a cheery atmosphere when they aren't effectively visible until 9 p.m.  Roasts and plum puddings aren't the ideal fare for days around 40C. Cards with snow-covered buildings and fat men in red, fur-lined suits don't remind me of anything festive at all. And don't get me started on the awful renditions of carols that supermarkets seem to play. Perhaps they get them really cheap.

I have to say my most memorable Christmases were the ones I spent in the U.K. Everything makes a whole lot more sense when it's cold, snowy and dark by 4.30 p.m.

My English wife simply can't correlate longer, hotter days and lighter evenings with the end of the year. It just feels 'wrong' to her.  One of my best friends, however, commented a few days ago that now we've had some really hot days it's starting to feel like Christmas.

I know what he means. I guess I used to feel like that too. But once I had spent time in Europe during this time of year I was able to recognise where certain elements of the Christmas tradition really belong.

For me, it'll be the chance to spend some quiet time with my wife and friends. And that's what Christmas it truly about.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Deep Thoughts For The Week.

1. Unfortunately, as defined in a dictionary, means undeserved bad luck, disastrous or regrettable. Most editors and publishers commence rejection letters with this adverb. My rejections have nothing to do with luck, they weren't disasters, and I suspect the editors didn't really regret their decisions.

I've recently had three or four personal rejections that commenced with this word, and then pointed out strong aspects of my work before declaring that the story simply didn't fit in with the 'vision' of the anthology.

So what is this elusive vision? My stories hit the guidelines and met the published 'what we're looking for' criteria.  I guess at some point during the slushing process the editor forms a more detailed overview of the direction the anthology is taking.

I understand this, but I do feel a little frustrated this couldn't be defined earlier. (And I recognise that's not always possible) I only wish they could let me know my story isn't a fit prior to the closing of subs to allow me a second chance. I feel most annoyed when my story is rejected like this, but when I read the final anthology I see stories that neither fit the guidelines or theme. (None of this is a criticism of the editors and their processes.  They can choose to buy and publish whichever stories they want, like and believe fit together the best. It's merely my own frustration and lack of understanding at what they are looking for.)

So when I receive a rejection with the words 'unfortunately' and 'didn't fit the vision', I have to wonder whether this is completely true, or whether they are just being polite and trying to pre-empt further correspondence from crazed writers.

2. Duotrope is about to become a paid service.

I have previously donated, but I must say I haven't yet sold enough work and made enough money from writing, or found Duotrope necessary enough to warrant the $50 per year subscription charges.

One area I do find useful is the suggested response time based on data received. The suggestion is that this user data represents approximately 10% of all submissions. As of next year I suggest this will fall as fewer writers will subscribe. Thus, of course, will lead to less accurate data.

I understand the need to finance this website. I don't believe it's worth the subscription they want.

3.  So the Universe is accelerating its expansion. I've known this for some time, but the consequences of this hit me during the week. Of course, we can't think of this expansion occurring from a single central point as it's more of a stretching expansion that anything else.

The Universe is estimated to be around 136 billion light years across, and it's expanding at a rate of 74.3 plus or minus 2.1 kilometers (46.2 plus or minus 1.3 miles) per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is roughly 3 million light-years).

OK, fast and big. And one day it's going to tear itself apart.
See? Not all my thoughts are happy thoughts about writing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Deck The Halls. Again.

Due for international launch next Thursday, 6th December, the eMergent anthology Deck the Halls includes my story, Softly Sing The Stars.  (Edited by Jodi Cleghorn with fabulous art by Andrew McKiernan).

Some of you might recognise this from a previous post about six months ago, and claim the anthology has already been released. That's true - it was released in July but only in Australia. This time it's available beyond our Summer shores.

Each of the thirty-two writers riffed off a line from the carol, Deck The Halls. The second last line, Sing this joyous, all together, was the basis for my SF story. My good friend and fellow traveller David McDonald, wrote his story, Through Wind and Weather, from the final line, Heedless of the wind and weather.

Not only is this a fabulous collection of stories, but with its Christmas theme it's ideal as a gift. It's available here.

 Table of Contents:

Touched - Rowena Specht-Whyte
Drench the School - Benjamin Solah
Coming Home - Rebecca Dobbie
While You Were Out - Sam Adamson
Twenty-Five - Rebecca Emin
A Jolly Pair - Christopher Chartrand
Gays and Commies - Graham Storrs
A Better Fit - Jen Brubacher
Salvation - Nicole R Murphy
A Troll for Christmas - Jo Hart
Modraniht - Kate Sherrod
Bosch’s Book of Trolls - Susan May James
‘Til Death Do Us Part - Emma Kerry
High Holidays - Dale Challener Roe
The Headless Shadow - Jonathan Crossfield
End of a Tradition - Paul Servini
Weatherboy - Nik Perring
Not a Whisper - Lily Mulholland
Lords of the Dance - Janette Dalgliesh
Through Frosted Glass - Laura Meyer
Midsummer’s Eve - Stacey Larner
Yuletide Treasure - Rob Diaz II
Broken Angel - Jodi Cleghorn
A Golden Treasure - Chia Evers
Fast Away - Jim Bronyaur
Apprentices to Time - Icy Sedgwick
Unfolding - Alison Wells
Egg-Ceptional - PJ Kaiser
Hail the New - Trevor Belshaw
Perfect Light - Dan Powell
Softly Sing the Stars - Steve Cameron
Through Wind and Weather - David McDonald

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Writer. Archer. Animal Doctor.

I can clearly recall the first time I heard Thoraiya Dyer's name. I'd never met her, yet I was incredibly jealous and was filled with an instant and illogical dislike. I even wanted to throw rocks at her. Of course at that time I had no idea she was not only a superb writer, but an archer.

After I started reading some of her work, the jealousy became adoration and worship ('Damn, I wish I could write like her' levels) and the dislike for her subsided. But it was only at the launch of Anywhere But Earth launch I finally had a chance to meet her. As she passed I noticed her name tag, and mentioned I'd loved her novella, 'The Company Articles of Edward Teach', and wished I'd brought it with me for her to sign. She looked at my name tag and mentioned she read my blog. Sure, I thought, nice thing to say. And then she mentioned a post I'd made a couple of weeks prior.

A short time late Thoraiya became the first person ever to ask me to sign my work.

Over the past year or so, Thoraiya has been incredibly supportive. Emails with just the right words at the right time, advice, shared commiserations, praise and encouragement - even listening to my occasional grumble. More than that, though, she continues to be a writer I hold in awe. Her ability to shape words, create worlds and to carry me away into another time and place amazes me.

More than that, I continue to be grateful a multi-award winning author treats me, a relatively unknown writer, as a peer.

One day, I'll get the opportunity to spend a little more time with Thoraiya. Perhaps I'll even buy her a drink or two and tell her the story of that early dislike.

A collection of four new stories, Asymmetry, is slated for release (as part of the fabulous Twelve Planets series) through Twelfth Planet Press in early 2013. Go on. Check it out.

Maybe you'll be jealous too.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vale: Bryce Courtenay.

Yesterday morning, I heard Bryce Courtenay had passed.

Although born in South Africa, he was seen as primarily an Australian writer. (Australians are excellent at claiming successes as their own; Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson) Courtenay had doubts that his first novel, The Power of One, would even sell. Instead it became one of Australia's most successful books. It was also his only title to have been published in the U.S.

In September, Courtenay appeared on a television program announcing that he had only months to live as he was suffering gastric cancer. Courtenay was extremely philosophical and candid in the interviews I saw, and my respect for the man grew immensely.

He was 79 years old.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vale: Boris Strugatsky.

Roadside Picnic was probably the first Russian novel I ever read.

Written by brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, it tells of the post-visitation of alien beings - aliens who stayed only a short time, were not seen, did not communicate with us, or showed any recognition of our existence. The sites of the visitation are littered with dangerous anomalies and artifacts - many of which hold amazing powers and are highly sought after.

These artifacts, while valuable to humans, are theorised as being no more than discarded rubbish left after a 'roadside picnic'.

Arkady passed away many years ago, but Boris (born 1933) has just died of heart problems and pneumonia. A computer scientist and astronomer until he became a fulltime writer in the 60s, he was a major writer, not only in Russia but worldwide.

R.I.P. Boris.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Think I'll Go And Eat Some Worms.

A weekend of disappointment.

My internet provider disconnected me for no apparent reason, and their customer support is only business hours, so I had no real internet access on the weekend. I received three story rejections, and at least one of those I thought was a really strong candidate for acceptance. I had another rejection on another matter, of which I thought I had a better chance than that.

On a positive note, two of the story rejections were personal and supporting. "Liked the writing style, well written, just not a fit" type of thing.  But I suppose you never really know, do you?

The non-fiction rejection was not overly surprising, and I was less disappointed than I thought I'd be. Always a good sign, I suspect.

As for my internet provider? They've made this mistake before. Time for them to lose a customer.

Chumbawamba anyone?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No News Is No News.

No real news on the writing front this week, apart from the announcement of After Death's TOC.

I have quite a few other stories out in the wilderness - some of which I have high hopes for. Of course I love all my stories, and generally have hopes for them, but I have really good feelings about some of these stories with these particular markets.

At least I haven't heard anything back from them yet. Several of my stories are still with editors, while other stories (from other writers) which were submitted more recently have already been rejected, according to Duotrope.

This, of course, bodes well, doesn't it?  It means the stories are still being considered, and appear to have made it past some arbitrary first round. Or maybe they're not being read in order, and will be rejected any moment now.

There is always the danger of reading too much into Duotrope's figures. You can't read anything into silence. As an online friend of mine, Martin L. Shoemaker, is wont to say, No News Is No News.

Friday, November 9, 2012

After Death.

Eric J. Guignard has just announced the TOC for this anthology, After Death - a collection of tales exploring what happens after we die. 

Not being a horror writer (says the guy who has now sold five horror stories and had one of them included in The Year's Best Australian Horror & Fantasy Recommended Reading List: 2010) I must admit I didn't know any of the other writers on this TOC. A little google research, however, has impressed me greatly.

I'm thrilled to have my story I Was The Walrus included alongside such great writers in this collection. It's due for release in March. Keep an eye out for it.

Andrew S. Williams — Someone to Remember
David Tallerman — Prisoner of Peace

Steve Rasnic Tem — The Last Moments Before Bed
Lisa Morton — The Resurrection Policy
John M. Floyd — High Places
Kelda Crich — Circling the Stones at Fulcrum's Low
David Steffen — I Will Remain
Aaron J. French — Tree of Life
Sanford Allen & Josh Rountree — The Reckless Alternative
Brad C. Hodson — The Thousandth Hell
James S. Dorr — Mall Rats
Ray Cluley — Afterword
Jonathan Shipley — Like a Bat out of Hell
Edward M. Erdelac — Sea of Trees
Jacob Edwards — The Overlander
Bentley Little — My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur
Jamie Lackey — Robot Heaven
John Palisano — Forever
Robert B. Marcus, Jr. — Beyond the Veil
Alvaro Rodriguez — Boy, 7
William Meikle — Be Quiet At The Back
Christine Morgan — A Feast of Meat and Mead
Simon Clark — Hammerhead
Peter Giglio — Cages
Kelly Dunn — Marvel at the Face of Forever
Trevor Denyer — The Unfinished Lunch
Steve Cameron — I Was The Walrus
Larry Hodges — The Devil's Backbone
Benjamin Kane Ethridge — The Death of E. Coli
Emily C. Skaftun — Final Testament of a Weapons Engineer
Joe McKinney — Acclimation Package
Josh Strnad — Hellevator
Allan Izen — In and Out the Window
John Langan — With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vale: Clive Dunn.

Growing up, one of my favourite sitcoms was Dad's Army. My Dad loved the show, and I fondly recall watching it with him. Unlike many other shows from that era, it has stood the test of time. It's still funny.

Clive Dunn, as Lance Corporal Jones has passed away, at the ripe old age of 92.

He not only served during WW2, but spent four years in P.O.W. and labour camps in Austria. Famed for his catchphrases of 'Don't Panic!' and 'They don't like it up em!', it appears as though he was a real gentleman who always had time for the fans.

Dunn passed in Portugal, where he lived after retiring.

R.I.P. Jonesy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Truth Is Out There?

I'm thrilled that there is still some mystery in our modern world.

A species of whale that was discovered in 1872 through bone fragments, the Spade-toothed Whale, has recently been seen for the first time ever. Two were washed up on a New Zealand Beach, and were originally thought to be another species altogether.

It intrigues me that a 5 metre whale can have eluded humans for so long. News reports claim it's the world's rarest whale. I would argue that it might be the world's rarest whale. The rarest whale is the one we haven't encountered yet.

And now there's new footage of Bigfoot. Filmed by a couple of American campers, we see a black shape through some trees, which then stands up. At that precise moment, the person taking the film decides to stand up, or move, or something, because we get no more of the creature.


And the tomb of an Egyptian princess has been discovered in Cairo. 4,500 years old and, it seems, in great condition.

All of these are fodder for the imagination and for my writing.

But there are more enduring mysteries.

Who sent me that hate mail back in 1985, or the valentine's card in 1982? And what about that postcard, completely blank apart from my name and address and the MOMA logo, from New York? It arrived at my home in Japan, and I still have no idea who sent it or why.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hyperbole And Hope.

No, they are not all awesome, amazing, incredible and unbelievable.

As someone who is fast becoming a grumpy old man, I'm getting rather tired of hearing every single thing a person says, does or writes being described with these adjectives. His organisation of that event was good, not awesome. She is an average teacher, not unbelievable. This short story was solid, not incredible. That YouTube clip was ok, not amazing.

It seems that there's a tendancy for everything to be greater than it really is. It seems that no longer can anyone be other than great. Average is out, apparently, and yet when I look around I see so much mediocrity. And almost all of it is dressed up in the guise of brilliance.

When everything is outstanding, what are we comparing it to?

And along with this over-the-top praise comes over-the top encouragement. You'll get there. You'll make it. Never give up. The only loser is the quitter. You can do anything you want.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

Encouragement is good - when it's appropriate and realistic. But it can be damaging when not warranted. In the writing world, for example, I see this all the time. Writers are encouraged to keep submitting because one day "you'll get there." The only thing stopping you is you.

Not always true. Some writers are awful, and will never get anywhere. And we shouldn't believe this false hope.

Should they quit? Not necessarily. But we should be avoid praise from people who don't know, and listen to the comments and advice from people who do. And become realistic about our own abilities and prospects.

When I was a kid I wanted to play soccer when I grew up. Nobody ever told me I was brilliant. Nobody told me "I'd make it if I just keep trying." And for good reason. I was hopeless. If I wanted to, I could have kept it up and been happy with playing locally. Teams are sometimes so short of players they'll take anyone. But the truth is I knew I was no good and was never going to make it.

We can all learn and improve our writing skills. No doubt about it. But not eveyone will improve to the point where they can sell professionally. But sometimes writers need to accept they're doing it for their own enjoyment and never going to sell their work.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Word Tyrant.

My friend, David McDonald, has just released an app that keeps track of writing and word count. Absolutely perfect for those of you about to attempt NaNoWriMo.

And it's cheap. Only 99 cents until Nov 2.

Check it out here, or here or here.

It looks fantastic, does incredible things, and has started getting great reviews.

Now all I have to do is convince him to get an Android version up and running.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can You Dig It?

It's been a busy week at Chateau Cameron. I've been kept busy by circumstances. It hasn't been a bad week, although nothing positive seems to have occured. A few rejections, a few plans that didn't come to fruition, a lottery ticket that didn't win.

Still, I have hopes for some of these negatives to turn around in the near future.

I'm a great believer in karma. The people who tend to abuse or cheat others will get caught out one day. And those of us who try to do the right thing? Well, I think good things await us.

Sounds like I've had a terrible week, huh?  No - just some ideas that have entered my consciousness, plans commenced and a spot of people watching.

And, of course, gardening.  Last year our vegetable harvest was fantastic. And I have high expectations for this coming season.

Karma. You really do reap what you sow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Many Australian writers and fans will be reasonably familiar with names such as A. Bertram Chandler, Wynne Whitford, Norma Hemming, and George Turner. But how much do you actually know about these writers, and how much of their work have you read?

As I've stated recently, I'm on a journey of discovery - exploring Australia's rich SF heritage, down into caverns I never even knew existed. And I've been excited to read some great works by these authors.

Although I only started writing a couple of years ago, I've been reading SF for more than three decades. However, I was never involved in fandom until a couple of years ago. Heck, I didn't even know it existed. Some of these writers appear to have been still alive in Australia with us until only recently. If only I'd known.

Missed opportunities.

But these names only scratch the surface. I've recently discovered Tomorrow and Tomorrow by M. Barnard Eldershaw (The pseudonym of two women who wrote this SF novel in 1947). How about writers such as James Morgan Walsh, Erle Cox or even Catherine Helen Spence, author of 'A Week In The Future' (1888)? Australians will find her image on our $5 note.

We all know Aurealis, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, but how about Thrills Incorporated, Science Fiction Monthly, Popular Science Fiction, Vision of Tomorrow or Void.

And so my quest into Australia's SF heritage continues. I'd love to hear any suggestions and recommendations from anyone who has journeyed this way before me.

p.s. If you can help me with ASIM #1, #4 and #20, please email me or leave a comment.
Some further resources I've discovered:

For more fantastic covers, check this out.

Far from Void: The History of Australian SF Magazines (1992) in Aurealis #7 ed. Stephen Higgins, Dirk Strasser

The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy (1998) ed.  Paul Collins and Sean McMullen

Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction (1999) Russell Blackford, Van Ikin & Sean McMullen

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ideas All Around.

This week I actually had two people ask me that notorious question. Where do you get your ideas from?

I was, of course, tempted to use Harlan Ellison's famous answer. Tired of hearing the same question over and over, he declared that every week he sent $5 (or $10 or $25, depending on the source) to a little old lady in Schenectady, New York and in return she sent him a list of ideas. Everyone laughed, but apparently at the end of the session there was a queue of people asking for her address.

I even thought of stealing Nick Tchan's recent forum post that said flying monkeys delivered ideas to him on scraps of paper.

Or Theodore Sturgeon's statement that every evening he left a bowl of milk on his front porch, and in the morning the milk had gone and a list of ideas had been left.

Instead I told the truth, that I see them everywhere around me. And they're coming faster than I can write them. I keep a list of them, of course. Some of these gems may not get used for a long time, some of them may end up as a minor idea in a different story. Some of them many never find a home.

Yesterday, for instance, I saw a car being towed by a tow-truck. I started asking "What if?", dropping the event into a number of different scenarios, and had half a story unfolding before I'd even realised it.

As for Theodore Sturgeon's answer, I think he may have been joking. At least once he suffered writer's block, bereft of ideas, and so he wrote to Robert HeinleinHeinlein responded thus.

Check it out. It' a fabulous letter with everything from fully hatched ideas down to short, abstract thoughts.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning From The Past.

I often read other people's work and wish I could write as they do. I recently realised that I can't - I can only write as I write.

I can, however, improve my own writing and develop my own voice.

I've been reading some twenty year old SF magazines and anthologies - part of my current goal to become more familiar with Australia's SF heritage - and I'm really enjoying it. But I sometimes wonder what happened to some of these writers. They appear to have been the 'next big thing' at the time, or at least headed for continued publication success - but here in the 21st century I've never heard of them.

I'm reasonably active within the Australian SF scene, and am familiar with most of the names currently publishing, but these writers seemed to have dropped off the map completely.

Did they just decide writing wasn't for them? Did life get in the way? Was their career a priority? Perhaps they had kids who ate up all their time.

On the other hand, I have read first published short stories from writers who are now established names. And I was amazed at how 'average' (sorry guys) some of these stories were. I could see the potential, for sure, but I also saw a lot of flaws in their work. And that gives me hope.

Sometimes we think some of these writers, because they've been around the scene for so long, were always superb. That somehow they were born with this gift.  There's no doubt they had the talent, but they also had the determination and the drive to persevere and improve.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Nagging Optimism.

I have a feeling the next twelve months are going to be great.

In my working life, in my personal life and in my writing life, I feel as though the future is shiny. I don't have any news, or any secret information I can't share, but a few things are starting to happen around me.

Perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps it's my attitude that has changed and I'm just seeing the world around me through this optimistic filter. But I can't help but feel it's more than that. And even if it is just a better outlook, that's not a bad thing, is it? A positive view and good things happening - which is cause, and which is effect?

But I want to make things happen in a number of areas. I have plans that I've put in place and so far they seem to be paying off.

Keep watching to see where the road leads me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The New Regime.

Day three of the new regime, and I'm still on it. Admittedly it's only been three days, but that's two days longer than I suspected it would last.

A diet you ask? Exercise? No, it's a writing regime.

I awaken each morning at 5.30, and write for 90 minutes before going to work. I've found that after a day of dealing with kids and words, the evening is not the best time for me to write. Plus I enjoy my evenings, spending time with my wife. Later at night would be good, but I'm not really a late night person. I suffer for it the next day.

And so day three of 5.30 starts, and all is going well.

Speaking of which, I should get some writing done. Out.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

I've attended some fabulous panels at conventions where the discussion has centred around the factors that make a piece of writing 'Australian.' Invariably these panels have focussed on the image of our landscape in writing; how dry, barren and hostile the country is. In general I agree with this sentiment. Henry Lawson, for example, recognised and utilised this. You only have to read his collection of short stories to see how dangerous the Australian outback can be.

But I realised something a few days ago. In the past 40 years I haven't had too many problems with snakes, bushfires or floods. And apart from driving, or the possibility of being mugged as I walk to my car after school, the most dangerous thing I regularly face, and the worst injury I've recently sustained, has been the result of stubbing my toes on furniture at home. (And, in complete honesty, it's happened a lot more than once)

Coincidentally, (or perhaps in synchronicity), I read an excellent interview this morning in issue #1 of Aurealis Magazine (1990) with 'Australia's Grand Master', George Turner. Written by Dirk Strasser, it looks at Turner's views on Science Fiction, literature, and the 'Australianness' of writing.

The issue also contains Turner's excellent "I Still Call Australia Home."

Here is part of the article:

Unlike many other Australian science fiction writers, he makes no attempts to ape American models (we shouldn't "give in to them," he says), nor are they set in a vague never-land. "I Still Call Australia Home" takes place in a future Australia, and is, like so much of his work, specifically set in Melbourne. "I use Melbourne because I'm a Melburnian," he says, "always have been."

George Turner is at his most passionate when talking about the uniquely Australian element of science fiction. You can see it in his eyes - not an overstated, hot-headed passion, but a passion nonetheless. There is the same pride when he writes in his autobiography of the possibility he has an Aboriginal ancestor. His fiction is deeply rooted in his environment; his Australianness is not a superficial gloss spread over a standard plot, it is essential and all-pervasive. "Australianness," he says, "is not a matter of familiar names and places - and mentioning wallabies and kangaroos and Ayers Rock doesn't get you anywhere either.  It's the sound of the prose. The English speak like Englishmen, the Americans speak like Americans - and Australians speak like Australians. Australianess is an attitude of mind. We think differently about things; we react differently to things."

The largelly ignored CJ Dennis nailed this. Songs Of The Sentimental Bloke brilliantly captures the Australian language, character and setting. It's a complete tragedy that his work is mostly out of print and forgotten while Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson are so highly revered.

Of course there will be times when a story is written to suit a foreign audience. I've done this myself when subbing to American editors. But at the heart of the story, at its core, I'd like to think it is clearly Australian.

My writing is, after all, a reflection of my experience, values and culture. And despite my Scottish birth, I am Australian.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To The Sea, To The Sea, To The Recovering Sea.

The newly released Shelter of Daylight #9, edited by Terri Leigh Relf, includes my short story, To The Sea, To The Sea, To The Recovering Sea.

I originally had the idea for this story down at Phillip Island waiting for the penguin parade. Some British relatives were visiting and we'd arrived really early, and so we were seated in an almost empty grandstand that faced straight onto the ocean.  What if, my mind began, this site is discovered and excavated in the future as an archaeological ruin, and the discoverers have no idea about the penguins landing here each night?

Why would a grandstand face the empty ocean?

And so the story developed from there. Except it didn't end up travelling in the direction I'd planned, as tales are wont to do, and so penguins, archaeologists and Philip Island never enter the narrative.

It's a story I like, and a world I might revisit in the future.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Think Professionally, Act Professionally.

Jobe Watson won the Brownlow Medal this week. For those who don't follow Australian Rules Football, this is an award given yearly for the 'best and fairest' player in the league - the MVP, if you like. It's voted for by the umpiring team after each game (3,2,1 points) and players who have been suspended throughout the year are automatically disqualified.

Jobe plays for my team, the Essendon Bombers. He just happens to be the son of a fantastic player, Tim Watson, who played for Essendon in the 80s. So Jobe won the award. But of course he's a champion. He was always going to be a champion, wasn't he? His father was a champion, he was raised in that supportive football environment, he had the genes, he grew up around the club.

Kevin Sheedy, the previous coach, recently revealed that if he'd stayed at the club he'd have either traded or de-listed Jobe. You see, Jobe was simply sailing along, not working anywhere near his potential and not taking the game seriously enough to succeed at that level.

Jobe revealed this week that it was his father, Tim, who took him aside a few years ago and had a chat with him. It was OK if he didn't want to play AFL, but if he was going to play then he needed to be make an effort. Jobe says he was angry with his father, and didn't speak to him for a few days. But then he took the words to heart and now he's become the player on which legends are built.

It's time for me to become more serious in my writing.

I don't know how far I can take it. I'm not even sure I know where I'd like it to go, but I know I have some short term goals that I want to achieve, and in order to do so I need to take my plan to the next level.
  • I want to SFWA qualify within the next year. For the first time ever, I have stories out at four pro-markets. I've never really targeted these markets much, as I knew I wasn't yet at that level of writing. But now I know I'm getting closer. I'm getting regular personal rejections from pro-mags, and I'm understanding what is needed to sell there. 
  • I have a couple of semi-pro markets that are on my hit list. The editors (and slushreaders) there have played hardball with me so far. But again I've gotten very close and had personal rejections. 
  • I'm allocating more regular time to my writing, and I have a chart up next to my desk with stories, markets, goals and deadlines on it. 
  • I've taken, am taking and will take workshops and courses in order to learn more about the theory of writing and the structure of stories. 
  • I'm immersing myself in reading short fiction from the markets I'm targeting.
I'm feeling optimistic about my writing at the moment. I'm productive, I'm seeing improvement and getting great feedback.

What are your goals? What are you doing to achieve them?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

SF Commentary.

Bruce Gillespie, one of the godfathers of Australian fandom, made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Bruce has a fantastic track record in the fields of editing, publishing, zines and criticism. He has more award nominations than anyone I know, including three Hugo nominations. (I don't include Mike Resnick in that - I don't 'know' him, I've merely mocked him on forums). He published the fantastic, and ridiculously expensive (on eBay, etc) and difficult-to-find, The Electric Shepherd, founded Norstralia Press, is a life member of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club, is a recipient of the A. Bertram Chandler Award and is an all round good guy.

His long running SF Commentary is a fantastic magazine, and I'm thrilled to have my picture on the front cover of #83.

My good friend, Fenna Hogg (who was my best man at my wedding, but that's another story) took a photo of me and turned that into a brilliantly artistic image.

Bruce saw it and asked if he could use it. As Bruce writes in this issue:
Melbourne graphic artist Fenna Hogg’s cover does not in fact portray Philip K. Dick wearing a scramble suit. That’s what it looks like to me. It is actually based on a photograph of Melbourne writer and teacher Steve Cameron, who arranged with Fenna for its use as a cover.
Cool, huh?

Check out Bruce's range of zines, including SF Commentary and Steam Engine Times here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Giving It 90%.

So that 10,000 word story I swore was as lean and tight as it possibly could be?  I easily trimmed 1,000 words from it yesterday.

Now this is a story I really like. And my first readers really liked. And slushreaders seem not to really like. Of course, now it's been trimmed and tightened to within an inch of its life, I'm sure the slushers will love it. Unfortunately, it's already been rejected at the markets I really wanted to publish it, and it can't be sent back to them. So now I have to look for others that would suit this story.

It's been very productive here this week. I've rewritten three and a half stories so far. (The missing half will be done this afternoon) Two of those have already been subbed, while the third (as mentioned above) is looking for the right home. The fourth, once complete, will be sent out for a weekend deadline.

And then I have a fifth, smaller rewrite to be done. That already has a market in mind. And then all my stories will be out in the wildwoods and I'll have a clean plate again.

Don't worry, I have a list of stories ready to go.

Including one based on a dream I had last night about John Belushi. And it ties in nicely with this other idea I've had running through my brain for the past two weeks.

And then there's the one about ...

Heck, I have a couple of pages of ideas just waiting to be written. And right now I actually have some time to make a start on a couple of them.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Learning Process.

I had my first session with Tracy Hickman last week. I signed up for his Scribe's Forge course, as I'd previously threatened to do, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a 90 minute webinar, where he taught us via webcam, and we responded and asked questions by typing as we looked up pages in a workbook.

Obviously a face-to-face workshop would be better - it would certainly suit my learning style, but I'm limited here in Australia.

I've written on the dearth of Spec-Fic workshops in the local scence before. Writers Victoria runs them from time to time, and I've recently completed a good Jack Dann course there. I also did a two day workshop with Sean Williams a few years ago, and I spent three months being mentored by Paul Haines.

Most of these, however, were based on critting each others work and developing our own stories. The Tracy Hickman workshop is based around some writing theory and method, and this is something I've longed for.

Already it's given me better ideas on how to construct stories and characters, and that's only after the first session.

It's all learning, and that's something I continue to do. I look back at stories that I wrote even just a year ago, and can see how I could have improved them. I analyse elements of short stories I read, and see what works and what doesn't. But mostly I try to apply what I've learnt to my new writing.

I always learn a lot as I go. But a course or two in the basics never goes astray.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Another Week, Another Rejection.


At least it was a personal one, and I have the feeling it was close. It came from one of the Big 3, so I'm pleased my story made it as far as the Editor-In-Chief. And that makes two in a row.

This one doesn't hurt - it wasn't one of those rejections. Sure, I'm a touch disappointed, but this is a story that will sell when it hits the right market. All I have to do is discover that market.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for me. It's time I had another sale. I need one right about now.

It would do me good.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


After spending thirteen years on the force, I think I have some idea how an investigation is undertaken. As a result I have a hard time reading crime fiction as very few detective or police novels ring true to me. I just don't believe them.

On a wider scale, I've recently read a few short stories that simply annoyed me because the characters didn't ring true either. Something felt wrong - their actions and reactions or thought processes seemed unlikely. Even entire situations asked for a much greater suspension of disbelief than I was prepared to give.

Some short stories require certain actions from characters in order to drive the plot, and these never work for me. Others require a situation to occur that is all too unlikely, and again that is where the writer loses me.

In my real life, I've had the most amazing co-incidences. My wife moved to Australia from the UK only to discover that her long-lost relative (who they didn't even know was in Australia) had a grandchild in my class at school. Afterwards people said "You wouldn't read about it."

That's true. Co-incidence in fiction doesn't work with the reader because it's recognised as being created in order to move the story along.

I still have a long way to go with my writing, but I think I'm getting better at creating characters and situations that are believable.

Well, at least as believable as a Bug-Eyed Monster from Planet-X can be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Professional Geek From Melbourne.

In 2011 I contacted the Continuum people and offered to run a panel on my favourite SF writer, Philip K. Dick. I automatically invited Bruce Gillespie (editor of the fabulous The Electric Shepherd) to join me, then sat back to see what happened.

Someone with a strange name was then allocated the panel, then had to withdraw, and then another (with a more 'normal' name) was assigned. I think we may have emailed a little beforehand, but I do recall the night before the panel when David McDonald introduced himself to me. He asked me how the panel was to run, and I briefly explained very little (as it was all PowerPoint based and quite logical in order).

The next day Bruce, David and I ran a very successful and interesting PKD session. Bruce, of course, was wonderful as always. But I owe much of that success to the insights and thoughts of David.  Afterwards we chatted, and it turned out we not only had some same acquaintances in the 'real world, but had similar backgrounds with matching reference points. So I sat in on a Dr. Who panel he'd organised, a wonderfully emotive Sarah Jane tribute, and found that he had a similar approach and attention to quality and detail that I had.

Afterwards, David bought me a coffee, and I impressed him with my...  well, everything.

Over the past year or so, David and I have become firm friends. We've become crit buddies, shared good news and bad, and built a mutual respect for each other's work and approach to writing. We have similar philosophies, morals and ethics.

Oh, and he'll always remind me of the crit session I conducted on Cold Comfort (from Epilogue) at Conflux mere hours before the submission deadline. You see, he was plying me with drinks and one thing led to another... But that's a story for future panels when we are both deservedly recognised for our abilities and writing credentials.

David is an up-and-coming writer whose work deserves attention. He's a great guy, a good friend and a fabulous writer. He was deservedly nominated for the "William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review" (along with Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely) for the “Reviewing New Who” series. And I'm proud to share the Epilogue TOC with him. Check him out here.

And don't believe a word he says about Canberra. What happened at Conflux, stayed at Conflux.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I've always found it curious that companies advertise how long they've been in existence. A store that has been running since 1758, or the ubiquitous on generic t-shirts "Since 1987", or "Established 1926" - all as if it mattered to the consumer. I mean, it's hardly the same company it once was, is it?

In some cases it's still in the same family, but of course with companies that are of some age, it's crazy to think any of the original employees or managers are still there. In these days of multi-national takeovers, the company you see is probably operated by a conglomeration based in Europe or the USA. And with companies that manufacture or sell products, it is extremely unlikely they make or stock the same products they originally did. And if they do, I can almost guarantee the recipes, ingredients and manufacture methods have changed beyond all recognition.

So why are companies so proud of their heritage? I figure it's simply an appeal to the consumers' sense of nostalgia, old fashioned values and a sense that if they've been doing something for so long, they must have got it right.

I was thinking about this recently. Steve Davidson has acquired the rights to Amazing Stories magazine, and has successfully published its first issue (in order to satisfy legal requirements over the acquisition of the brand) and plans to launch properly next year sometime. (originally as an e-publication, but I truly hope they quickly include a paper release as well) While I thought this re-launch was a good thing, a friend pointed out that it held absolutely no connection to the original magazine, although from all initial reports it seemed as though Davidson was approaching the 'reboot' in the spirit of the original. Later, we discovered that he put together an editorial advisory board that included four past Amazing Stories editors. The links to the past were stronger then I'd imagined. 

But this got me thinking. Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction aren't owned by the original companies and have both changed ownership several times. Even Asimov's, in it's short thirty-five year history, has changed owners and editors more than once. So why do we accept change in some 'institutions' and not in others? The recent debacle with Weird Tales has shown that a change of ownership does not always continue a tradition, and I suspect the brand name has been damaged more than the owners realise. Perhaps it would have been wise to have kept Ann VanderMeer as editor. I certainly have no plans to submit there until the dust has cleared and I see their new editorial direction. Other publications which have changed format or lost regular schedules or lessened in quality have completely dropped off my submission radar. The big three, as mentioned above, are my current focus.

I think it has to do with the vision. F&SF, Analog and Asimov's continue to produce quality magazines in line with a tradition. They continue to attract the best writers, the best stories and best artists. All while continuing to move with the times.

And I suspect the re-launched Amazing Stories has the same ethos. I wish it all the best.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Antisocial Media?

One of the downsides to social media is the frequency with which I am called an idiot, or unintelligent, or worse. Nobody has said this directly to my face, although I'm sure there are some who believe it.

For some reason, people say things on the internet they wouldn't say in public or in a face to face setting. Recently I've seen an increase in the number of people posting political, philosophical, religious, anti-religious and even comments about music, literature and movies which include a comment about the intelligence of anyone who disagrees with the poster.

No, I'm not unintelligent if my political beliefs don't align with yours, or if I disagree with certain policies promoted by a political faction, or if I don't think a particular artist or movie is the greatest ever.

I have my own beliefs, as does everyone, and they are a construct based on my experience, my upbringing, my cultural background, my employment, and my age amid a range of other factors. I choose not to promote most of them, or even discuss them in public. But I try not to presume that those who differ are idiots, or worse.

It's interesting, but I often find the people who shout 'tolerance' the loudest are the most intolerant of other points of view.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Drive, She Said.

My story, Drive, She Said, has just been published in Cover of Darkness, #12.

It was my first effort at writing when I decided to give it a go. (So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper was my second attempt).

Drive, She Said went through several rewrites, of course, with the last couple being under the guidance of Paul Haines as part of the AHWA mentor program. We both had hopes for this beast, so I'm thrilled it has finally been released.

And, you have to love the advertising blurb - especially when it includes the words "features", "supernatural horror", "Australia" and "Steve Cameron."
At Cover of Darkness, as many of you have already discovered, we do the Dark Side right.  If you’re quiet while you read, you can actually hear your hair rustling as it tries to stand on end.  This issue features “Shut-In” by William C. Rasmussen; “Posey,” by Mark Walsh, and the supernatural horror “Drive, She Said,” by Australia’s Steve Cameron [don't worry, we turned the words right-side up].
Out of interest, the sequel to this story, If You Give This Girl A Ride, was published a few months ago in Cover of Darkness, #11.  Does that mean Drive, She Said is now a prequel?

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I landed a few fish this weekend.

I've used the fishing analogy for writing a few times now, and I think it generally holds true. This time, however, I mean actual fish. A couple of Australian Sea Salmon, and some smaller flathead which I threw back in.

I hadn't taken my rods and reels with me for the weekend trip, but once I was down there I decided I wanted to fish. I bought a small hand reel and bait, and stood on the small jetty for a few hours and chatted casually with the others that fished nearby.

Makes me want to go fishing more often. My wife dropped down to see me at the jetty and told me how relaxed I seemed.

The salmon we later pan-fried in butter, and they were delicious.

As for my metaphoric fishing lines? No new bites there. Sigh. The editors make me wait.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some Activity.

A couple of rejections popped into my inbox this week. I originally had high hopes for these stories with these particular markets, but as time went on I had a feeling they were going to be rejected. At least they were personal rejections which means they were close. Real close.

Oh well.

These ones didn't hurt at all. I'll give them the once over and send them back out on their merry way. It's been quite a while since I've had a rejection that hurts. And the last one that did still aches from time to time. The wound is scratched open - especially when I see the cover image online or on my shelf, and wonder why my story didn't fit. I still think it would have been a great match.

There are others out there in the wildwoods, and a few deadlines fast approaching. Hopefully I'll have good news next time I post.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vale: Neil Armstrong.

One day, when I was six years old, the entire school was herded into a large room where we sat and watched grainy images on a regular sized TV as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface for the very first time. It's still one of the few memories I have from that particular school. It was cool and exciting to think that man had walked on the moon.

From all accounts, Neil was a nerdy engineer who was calm and logical. A quiet, private gentleman who wanted none of the hoopla that surrounded the event. (Apparently that was the main reason he was selected over Buzz Aldrin to be first.)

A couple of years ago I read a wonderful book about the twelve astronauts who'd been on the moon. Moondust, by Andrew Smith, looks at the men, and how their lives were affected by having walked on the moon. Lyrical and poetic and engaging, I still highly recommend the book.

Armstrong, reclusive and private, rarely gave interviews or spoke to the media. For this book, however, he consented and spoke with the author.

In a moment of unusual frankness, Neil Armstrong once recalled standing on the Moon and noticing he could blot out the Earth with his thumb. Did that make him feel really big, he was asked? 'No,' the great astronaut replied. 'It made me feel really, really small.'

We haven't been back to the moon since 1972. As Smith says:

'Of over 400 people who have now into space, only 27 have ever left Earth orbit and seen her from the perspective of Deep Space - all American and all between the Christmases of 1968 and 1972.'

And only twelve have walked on it. Perhaps it's time we went back. With current technology, and people on the surface, one can only imagine the possibilities.

As for Neil, he's now taken a bigger step into the unknown. Have a safe journey. Thank you for the inspiration and dreams.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Four For Four.

Where has this year gone? It's zooming past, and seems to be getting faster. We're almost through August, and there are only four months left in 2012.

And in those four months I have four stories coming out - one per month.

Four for four. You've got to love alliteration.