Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Have you bought a membership and made your reservations yet?

June 8th is almost upon us and the community from around Australia will then gather for Continuum 8.  It was only a few years ago I discovered this whole writing/fandom event even existed. I signed up for my first convention without knowing anything about it. I was nervous about attending, I didn't know what to expect, didn't really know anyone there and felt as though I was intruding.

Of course that all quickly changed and I'm now a regular attendee and participant. I'm on three panels this time around and I must say I'm really looking forward to them. It'll be great to catch up with friends, meet new people and spend hours and hours talking complete crap with them.

The schedules have just been posted, and the panels look fantastic. I've also discovered I'll be doing a reading with David McDonald, Jo Anderton and Dirk Flinthart as 'FableCroft authors'. Exciting, and terrifying at the same time. I'm also very excited about the awards ceremony, as I'm on the ballots for my first Ditmar and Chronos awards. Simply being shortlisted is thrilling.

But whatever happens, the convention will be as valuable as ever.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Just Like A Good Casserole.

Last week someone asked me about my influences. I know there are certain writers whose work has consciously influenced me, but there are many more who must sit in the deeper recesses of my mind. But just for interest I thought I'd list a few whose writings have meant something to me along the way. I  haven't read many of them for years. Sometimes it's best not to go back.

Enid Blyton. You might laugh at this one, but as a young child I was hooked on the Famous Five adventures and The Faraway Tree. None of her other writings worked for me, but the sheer adventure and mystery of the five, plus the darker fantastical elements of the tree resonated within me.

Capt. W.E. Johns. I don't know how young I was when I first encountered Biggles, but I know I read his stories for years. Great characters and exciting adventures in wonderfully exotic settings. There's even a biography of Biggles, as though he was a real pilot.

John F.C. Westerman.  Until a few years ago, I'd only ever read one book by him. My grandfather gave me Bringing Down The Air Pirates. A SF novel, although the adventure side was similar to Biggles. I finally re-read it a year or two ago, and still enjoyed it. I discovered there was a sequel. It wasn't as good.

Ed McBain. The pen name of Evan Hunter. My uncle introduced me to the 87th Precinct series when I was a teen. I loved them. Excellent police procedurals. And characters that I recall connecting with.

Giovanni Guareschi. An Italian writer from the 30s and 40s who wrote wonderful little short stories, almost vignettes, set in a small town in Italy, and highlighting the ongoing battles between the catholic priest and the communist mayor. My father had a couple of Don Camillo books and I devoured them as a young teenager. I've recently introduced his work to a good friend, who absolutely loves it.

Ngaio Marsh. A New Zealand writer who wrote murder mysteries - and for my money they were much better than Agatha Christie. I recently read a biography on this remarkable woman. I might actually delve back into some of these,, when I find time.

Isaac Asimov. The first of the real SF writers I can recall encountering as a teenager. I think it was the Foundation series - and that's not a bad place to start. Perhaps not the best writer, but full of original and intelligent ideas. Plus the 70s Panther editions had those wonderful Chris Foss covers.

Robert Silverberg. The second real SF writer I read. Tower of Glass I think it was. And then I kept buying and reading his work. I love his short fiction also, and in the 80s I was thrilled when I started on the Majipoor series. I met him at Worldcon, told him he'd been a huge influence and shook his hand.

Philip K. Dick. I don't remember when I bought my first PKD book, but I'm pretty sure it was Time Out of Joint. He quickly became my favourite, and I think I own everything by him. And I love introducing him to others.

Jonathan Carroll. Dark weirdness with elements of magic realism. I picked up two of his works in the late 80s. I needed something to read, the covers intrigued me and they were in the discount bin outside a newsagents. I was hooked.

Haruki Murakami. When living in Japan, a friend bought me one of his books as a Christmas present. Shortly after I rushed out and bought everything else that had been translated. Many years later and that friend is now my wife. She has such good taste.

Katherine Mansfield. Another New Zealander who died far too young and left us far too few short stories. And yet every single one is an absolute work of art. I was introduced to her in University, and I read and re-read her works every year or so.

And then, throughout the 70s and 80s, there was a string of SF writers whose work I read over and over and absolutely loved. Perhaps the only reason they're not listed in the main section is that I just happened to pick up Asimov and Silverberg first. But I need to include the works of Michael G. Coney, Christopher Priest, Christopher Stasheff and Douglas Adams. Followed closely by Robert Sheckley, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, Jack. L Chalker, C.S. Lewis, Julian May, Stephen Donaldson, and....  well, there are just too many. And I know tomorrow I'll kick myself for leaving someone off the list. Somewhere along the way all these writers, and many others, have infused my mind.

Who do you acknowledge?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Is The Measure?

Anyone who reads these posts regularly would be well aware that I am a strong supporter of small press, particularly here in Australia. I truly believe they are publishing some of the most interesting pieces around at the moment. And, importantly, they provide opportunities to emerging writers like myself.

I'm fortunate enough to have sold my work to Tasmaniac, FableCroft, eMergent and Coeur de Lion, amongst others, and I have other publishers, such as Ticonderoga and Twelfth Planet on my hit list.

It's an amazing experience when you see a TOC with your name listed among name writers. I'm thrilled to have work sitting alongside Kim Westwood, Robert N Stephenson, Richard Harland, Thoraiya Dyer, Alan Baxter, Margo Lanagan, Sean McMullen, Jason Nahrung, Lee Battersby, Brendan Duffy, Cat Sparks, Robert Hood, Simon Petrie, Brendan Duffy, Jason Fischer, Patty Jansen, Lyn Battersby, Nicole R. Murphy, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Dirk Flinthart - and those are only the writers whose work I previously had sitting on my bookshelf. Many are names I'd only heard of until a year or two ago, yet now I've met some of them and am starting to build a friendship.

So why is it so difficult to get anthologies reviewed when they contain names like this?

Keith Stevenson, publisher and editor at Coeur de Lion, recently posted lamenting the lack of recognition his fabulous anthology, Anywhere But Earth, has achieved. With the quality and reputation of many of the writers on the TOC, and the international critical, award and commercial success afforded his previous publications, such as X6, it's incredible that the book seems to have disappeared with little more than a blip on the awards and review landscape.

The Australian Spec Fic community is healthy. There is no doubt of that. There are many emerging writers, an 'old-guard' that continues to be produce fantastic work and is supportive of us 'newbies', and a number of small presses pushing boundaries, taking risks and being inventive.

Stevenson (and others I've spoken to) don't do it for profit. From my understanding most of these presses lose money with every publication. It would be a shame for us all if it became so untenable that they were to either reduce or stop production all together.

Post a review on GoodReads, Amazon, anywhere else you can. Promote and support the community.  It needs us all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Gotta Wear Shades.

Like any other skilled activity, the writing experience is a series of improvements punctuated with plateaus where not much seems to happen - either in sales or personal writing growth. Or at least that's how it has been with me.

Recently I've felt that I've been stuck, wheels spinning and not advancing, not getting anywhere at all - although no doubt I was improving and honing my skill. I was just too close to see it myself. But I've recently started to feel that I was getting closer to another burst of improvement.

I've got two stories on hold, two stories just sold and another re-subbed after a rewrite request. And I have high hopes for a couple of others.

Yesterday, I came away from Jack Dann's workshop with some excellent criticism on my subbed story from my fellow participants and Jack, along with positive and encouraging words. And while I don't agree with everything that was said about my story, I will look at everything, consider carefully, and rewrite parts as appropriate.

Continuum is creeping up on us, and I'm looking forward to catching up with a bunch of people. I've signed up to be on a panel with my friend, David McDonald - and that should be a lot of fun. It's a shame Gitte Christensen won't be able to make it, but it was lovely catching up with her yesterday and I look forward to reading her current work-in-progress. Once it's completed, of course.

I must admit I'm also very excited about hearing my name listed among the nominations for both the Chronos and Ditmar awards. And, of course, attending the launch of Epilogue.

Timbuk 3, anyone?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Self Publishing.

I recently became involved in a discussion on self-publishing, and so I thought I'd try to articulate my thoughts here on how it relates to me.

I'm certainly not ready to self publish. Before I do I want to be able to maintain a consistently high standard and since I'm not yet selling regularly to semi-pro markets and above....

I know a couple of people who sub stories all around to different markets, and then once it's been rejected everywhere, they self publish. My thoughts are that if the story has been rejected everywhere, then there's probably something fundamentally wrong with the story. Writers (myself included) are notorious for not seeing faults in their own work.

Some of these writers suggest that a couple of bucks is a fair price for their short stories - the ones that have been rejected by all the major markets. I respectfully disagree. Not when I can pick up an anthology like this as an e-book for $8.48. Twenty eight stories, by some name writers, all of which have been through a quality-control gatekeeper and a decent editing to within an inch of their lives.

I've also been disappointed by virtually all the self-published work I've read. Usually they're not particularly good and the lack of proper editing gets in the way.

Of course I'm not referring to work that has been previously published and the rights have now reverted to the author. That is a different matter, and it's an excellent way to keep works available. And I'm not referring to writers who have honed their craft and built their reputation to the point where there is some assurance of quality.

I've been advised that self publishing even a bad story won't harm your reputation, and at the very least you'll make a few bucks. Again I disagree. There are a few writers out there whose work I avoid, based on a sub-standard piece of work. Give your readers some credit for intelligence. And a memory.

If you want to self-publish, then great. Go ahead. It's just not for me. Not yet. I still want to build my craft to the point where editors regularly want to buy my work.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Vale: Donald 'Duck' Dunn.

Reports from Tokyo suggest Dunn has passed away in his sleep, aged 70.

Best known for his membership of The Blues Brothers Band with Belushi and Ackroyd, Dunn came from Booker T and the MGs, as well as playing on many, many STAX singles, such as Respect, by Otis Redding.

In later years, as a session man, his bass was heard on tracks by everyone from Tom Petty to Neil Young and Eric Clapton.

I never got to see him play live, but as a regular 'Blues Brother' at the Valhalla Cinema during the mid 80s, I must have seen him on that film well over 200 times. (I stopped counting at 186.) Pipe firmly in mouth, bass grooving along with Willie Hall's drums. Amazing.

 A talented player. He will be missed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

2011 Aurealis Awards.

Congratulations to all the winners at last night's Aurealis Awards. I've read most of the winning titles, and enjoyed them all. I'd like to specifically mention a few of the winners.

I'm currently attending Jack Dann's workshop on Spec-Fic, and so I've gotten to know him a little as a mentor. Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers is a fantastic collection. Congratulations, Jack.

The late Paul Haines was, of course, my mentor for several months, and then became a friend with whom I was in regular contact. The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt from The Last Days of Kali Yuga is wonderful, and fully deserves the award.

I first met Thoraiya Dyer at the launch of Anywhere But Earth in November of last year. I'm proud to be sharing a TOC with her in FableCroft's upcoming anthology Epilogue. Her story, Fruit of the Pipal Tree in After The Rain is a most worthy winner also.

Robert N Stephenson's story, Rains of la Strange, shared a TOC with my own So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper in Anywhere But Earth. Congratulations to Rob, and publisher/editor Keith Stevenson.

I've met Kim Westwood on a few occasions, and also shared a TOC with her in the above anthology. The Courier's New Bicycle is an excellent novel. Congrats, Kim.

Twelfth Planet author, Sue Isle picked up an award for Nation of the Night, while Lisa Hannett scored a couple for Ticonderoga's excellent collection Bluegrass Symphony and the short story The Short Go: a Future in Eight Seconds. I thoroughly enjoyed these works when I read them.

I wasn't able to justify flying up to Sydney for the ceremony, but it sounds like everyone had a great time. One of these years I'll get there. In the meantime, I've had a great week. I sold two stories, had a rewrite request on another, and have two stories on hold.

If I keep at it, maybe one day I'll be fortunate enough to be nominated for an Aurealis.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Push An Ale.

This afternoon I was shopping in Officeworks when the PA started playing this song, although not this version.

Music is a powerful trigger for memory. And the moment the song started I was instantly transported back to a time, a place, an emotion.

I stood quietly in the aisles, lost somewhere between the staplers and a small creek, and remembered.

And smiled.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

We wait.

I've had a good week's writing.

I finished my short story for the Jack Dann writing course I'm currently attending. I wrote it for the course when we first started, and had plans last week to write a second draft, but I just didn't have time. In the end I glanced over it, changed a couple of words and subbed it. Of course there's part of me that is looking forward to the critiquing, and a part of me that's completely terrified by the prospect.

When I was in Sri Lanka in January, I had a short story idea which I duly wrote down in my notebook. It was a basic premise, and needed a lot more to be developed before it was story-worthy.  Last week I realised that the premise fit an anthology to which I had hoped to submit. Of course the deadline was approaching faster than I'd thought, and so I had to work hard to get the story up and running. I still didn't know where it was going to go - even as I wrote the first three hundred words. And then a beautiful thing happened. As I kept writing, the whole plot and narrative fell into place.

I was able to turn out a clean first draft and send it to my writing buddy, David McDonald, for an emergency crit. I literally sent it seconds after I wrote the final word and hadn't reviewed any of the story myself.  David kindly read the story for me, making notes, and sent it straight back. From there I reworked parts of the story, tightened other aspects and subbed it with an hour to spare on the deadline.

Usually I leave stories for a while so I can go back in with a fresh mind and viewpoint and see all the little problems you don't notice when you're too close to it.

I just hope this story is as good as I believe it to be.

But now it's subbed and the market usually has a quick turnaround. I'm also waiting on news about a bunch of other stories that are out at the moment. I anticipate hearing on most of these in the next week or so.

And for now we just wait, wait, wait.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I Guess I'm Hooked.

So last night I dreamed that I was attending the launch of an anthology in which I had a story.

As I entered, I bumped into a couple of small press publishers, and we spent some time chatting about writing. They congratulated me, and said nice things about my work, (OK, so most writers are insecure and our egos need attention from time to time) and then I told them how impressed I was with their latest anthologies.

Someone once told me that if,  eighteen months after you commence, you are still writing and submitting, then you will likely be around for the long haul. Most people give up well before that, after receiving a few rejections.

It's been three years or so for me now. And now I'm dreaming of publishers, sales and book launches. I check my email every morning anticipating a sale that has arrived over night but more often receiving a rejection. I research markets looking for places to sub. I keep an eye on recent activity at subbed markets over at Duotrope. I long for those times when I get to hold a new anthology with my writing inside. And I am delighted when I see favourable comments and reviews on my work.

Yeah, I think I'm hooked. And it's exactly the way I wanna be.