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.