Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Kind Of Writer?

It's only in the past six months that I've actually felt comfortable calling myself a writer. Before then I wasn't really sure what to call myself. Aspiring writer? Emerging writer? Beginning writer?

I always had a problem with aspiring writer.  That makes you sound like someone who wants to be a writer but may or may not be actually doing anything.  An emerging writer has similar connotations. Emerging from where? From the great unknown to fame and fortune?  Then I suspect I'll be emerging for a very long time, although this is the term I personally favoured for a long time.

And then there's just writer. All on its own.

There are a whole bunch of writers out there who simply say if you write, then you're a writer. But I don't think it's that simple or that accurate. Someone who writes? Then every single student in school is a writer.

But no.  We don't allow that for other pastimes or career pursuits. And are we demeaning the professional writer by suggesting anyone can write?

If an adults performs scenes in their own house we would never consider them an actor. The same as someone who kicks a football around their backyard isn't a player. My mother used to make her own clothes, back in the day. But she would never call herself a fashion designer. We need to have some kind of levels of ability, result, professionalism. This, perhaps unfortunately, is measured through sales and publications - external validation.

When people asked me, I used to tell them that I wrote short fiction and aimed to become a professional writer (and that doesn't necessarily mean you'll make a full time living from it). But despite what some will tell you, there are tiers of markets, people who write do have varied talents, and not all stories are equal.

But I now have that external validation. I have sales to respected markets, purchased by recognised and awarded editors and publishers.

I've just started and I have a long way to go, but I am a writer.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vale: Lou Reed.

1966. The Beatles were at the tail end of their moptop era, the Stones were their nasty counterparts. Very few people were listening to the Velvet Underground, despite the massive influence they were to become and remain.

McCartney sang Got To Get You Into My Life, a subtle acknowledgement of marijuana, while the Velvets recorded, Heroin, a full-on description of the drug coursing through their veins. They sang openly about the New York underground scene: drugs, prostitution, sado-masochism, etc.

Like most people, my first taste of Lou Reed was through the first band album, Velvet Underground & Nico, and his second solo album, Transformer. The best-known tracks off those two albums alone are enough to define an entire career. Sunday Morning, I'm Waiting For The Man, Femme Fatale, Venus In Furs, Run Run Run, All Tomorrow's Parties, Heroin, I'll Be Your Mirror, The Black Angel's Death Song, Perfect Day, Walk On The Wild Side, and Satellite Of Love to name only some of them.

Lou was 71 years old.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What's happened to SF Films?

I'm trying to think back to the last great SF film I saw.

It certainly wasn't Prometheus or Elysium. Both looked shiny and pretty, but both were completely ridiculous and, basically, a mess. Looper was just plain stupid.

I saw Oblivion this week, which was OK. It wasn't great, but for a Tom Cruise SF vehicle, it was a typical Tom Cruise SF film.

Last night I watched Upside Down, which made the mistake of trying to pretend it was an SF film by having SF rules, when really it should have declared itself a fantasy film and be done with it. Oh, and if you make rules in your worldbuilding, you can't break them.

I also saw Gravity, which I will include here even though it's not an SF film. There's nothing in that films that couldn't currently happen (apart from the film-maker's usual exaggerations to create a story) and nothing that suggests it being set in the future, apart from a high mission number. It was good, but wasn't great. OK, some of the science was a bit dodgy, but the second half lost the tension and became silly at points, and Sandra Bullock was Sandra Bullock. Now with more botox, it would seem. Those eyebrows just didn't move.

Any others recently?

I enjoyed Star Trek: Into Darkness, but it was no Star Trek movie. There was no 'boldly going', and no 'exploring strange worlds' and 'meeting alien races.' I also didn't like J.J. Abrams throwing in all the 'sparkly' stuff in the first two films. Time travel, end of Romulan world, and transportation from FTL ships. It leaves me more than a little concerned about the future Star Wars movies being in his hands. At least it wasn't After Earth.

Why can't they get it right? Why can't they make a Silent Running or The Day The Earth Stood Still? (Mention Keanu's version and you're no friend of mine!)

At the moment I have high hopes for Enders Game. Please let it be good.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


There simply aren't enough SF writing workshops available to those of us who live in Australia.

My American based friends and peers seem to have access to  many workshops with name writers and editors. I always see someone I know who's off to learn the finer points of writing at the feet of these masters. But here?

Clarion South has  been in hibernation for a few years. Writers Victoria offers SF specific courses every couple of years, while their general short story courses seem to run only during working hours. Even then they tend to be run by people I've never heard of, although I'm sure they are quality writers and teachers.

About 18 months ago I attended a once-a-month workshop with Jack Dann. It was pretty good and I learned a lot, although I would have preferred it to have been more of a masterclass rather than a beginner's course.

I've done a couple of online workshops, which I found extremely beneficial, but in many ways I'm an old fashioned learner, and like to have face-to-face contact and teaching.

Those American based workshops look great, but it's hard to justify for myself when I have to add airfares and accommodation and time off work and so on. Maybe we should just convince some of those guys to come out here and teach us.

Or convince some of our homegrown talent to run a few for us.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I've been building a kitchen, and I must say it's coming along nicely.

We bought all the components, of course - flatpacks - and then I used tools and sharp implements, and my incredible handyman skills and superpowers, to convert these panels into something where stuff can be stored.  We ordered the benchtops, had the stove and rangehood fitted, and the kitchen is once more functioning.

Some of the rooms had the original carpet still. Salmon pink may have been cool in the 80s (although I doubt it) but it had worn, faded, stretched and been stained. So yesterday new carpet was fitted in three rooms. It was quite an effort emptying those rooms, particularly since one is the study with many books on shelves, but I got it all done and back in record time.

I took the opportunity to sort through some stuff in the study. It's always been a cosy place, somewhere I enjoy writing, but now it's less cluttered and feels wonderful.

Just a little worn out, so I think Sunday afternoons were meant for watching SF films. The only thing to do now is choose which one to watch.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Writing For Writers.

A few months ago, my school leadership asked me to submit a proposal to introduce a new subject in 2014.

I wrote an outline for a course, Writing for Writers, designed as an elective subject for year 9 students. (I believe that would be equivalent to Seniors at Junior High School)

Not only was the proposal adopted and offered, but I'm thrilled to discover that there were enough applicants from students to run two classes.


Think about it.

We are continually told that students in Year 9 are the least engaged in education. We are told they have no interest in English, or reading, or writing. And yet I had around 50 students apply to do more than the required English class. (My friend David had a similar number of students apply for his Maths elective.)

So what does this mean?

Do students find mainstream English too constricting? Is the course too focused on essays and text analysis? Are we taking the joy of writing and reading out of school? Or is it simply that not every kid wants to do wood or metal or textiles as an elective?

Whatever the reason, I think it's fantastic and I look forward to the challenge of developing an actual course now.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Head Down, Back To Work.

I've enjoyed a post-sale euphoria this week after Mike Resnick bought a story for Galaxy's Edge. Selling is always a great feeling, but I've enjoyed this one a whole lot more because of the market. And although I'm thrilled by every sale, this is probably the most excited I've been since my first one three years ago, when Tasmaniac bought Ghost of the Heart.

It was great to get congratulatory emails and messages from a few writer friends/peers. While I also received congrats from other family and friends, the writers understood the importance of this sale, the difficulty in selling to the pro-markets, the career development this actually represents. But every single one of them said the same thing - keep writing, get more work out there, get your next one sold. (Gitte Christensen said some very nice things here. Thank you.)

I've heard of writers who sell one story to a pro-market and never sell to them again. I'm aware of others who presume this first sale means they've broken through, only to take a year or more to sell the second. And, of course, there are those who continue to sell regularly at this level.

Dave Farland wrote a piece this week about giving up.  I don't think I've ever seriously considered giving up, but I've certainly questioned whether I was wasting my time. A lot of writers will tell you that perseverance is the key to success. It's a major part, that's true, but talent and skill also come into play, just like any other skill based creative career. There are some who will never sell a story no matter how hard they try.

Fortunately this insecurity I have about my own work means I cannot presume another sale will follow. I hope it does, but I also recognise it's a tough world out there and I must work harder to ensure I improve my writing.

This first sale was only the foundation, but I am determined to build  on it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

First Professional Sale.

I am absolutely thrilled to announce my first pro-level writing sale.

Mike Resnick, the most awarded and nominated SF writer in the known universe, has bought one of my stories for Galaxy's Edge. It was only a couple of weeks ago I was singing the praises of this magazine, and I can't believe that I'm now going to be included in its TOC.

I have a few friends who didn't really understand why I was so excited. They figured I'd been selling stories for a while now so this was just another sale. Market levels are actually designated, and the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) lists the qualifying markets they consider to be of a professional level. This determination is based on a number of factors, including pay-rate, longevity and reputation.

And  selling to a pro-level market is one of those goals I have on my checklist.

Onwards to the next goal (which is another sale at this level), but for now I'm dancing around my house.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The God Thing.

I'm pleased to announce Alban Lake has just published my story, The God Thing, in Outposts of Beyond #2.

With fantastic cover artwork by Laura Givens, and a TOC that includes not only my story, but work by M. Keaton & Beth Powers among others, what isn't to love? And it's great to see my own name on the cover.

Since this is my second publication with Alban Lake (with another scheduled for January) I guess I'm now part of the Alban Lake family.

The October issue of Outposts of Beyond, featuring science fiction and fantasy tales seasoned with a few dabs of poetry and filled out with a couple fine articles, is now available for purchase. The stories include “Fleet,” by M. Keaton; “Sparkles,” by Beth Powers; “The God Thing,” by Australia’s Steve Cameron. There’s poetry by multiple Rhysling winner Robert Frazier, and by England’s Deborah Walker, among others. Finally, there are two excellent essays, one on character development by Rachel Holt, the other on being Goth, by Kimberly Richardson. All this is wrapped inside a really kicking cover by Laura Givens. Come try us out, see what we can do.

Want To Be A Clone?

I recently saw a video which made me chuckle - John Lennon auditioning for The Voice. And, for the most part, it rings true. This is exactly what these judges would say, and this is exactly how these judges would react.

Okay, let's forget for a moment that I am a musical dinosaur who revels in the past and cannot be convinced that most modern music is anything but monotonous rubbish. Let's ignore 'taste' for the moment. Let's pretend that I personally like 'musicians' who can play the crap out of their instruments and make your heart ache with a well placed note or string bend.

The Voice is not a talent show.

Yes, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix would not have made it past the blind auditions.

They simply don't check the boxes, the template the show is looking for.

Bobby, Johnny and Jimi could make you fall in love, raise you to anger, or cause you to sob simply with their instruments, their melodies and their words. The so-called 'stars' resulting from the current deluge of 'talent' shows perform vocal gymnastics and tell amazing sob-stories about dead relatives for whom they are performing.

I see a parallel in writing.

Recently I read somewhere that John Irving said if he was trying to break into the market now his manuscript wouldn't get a second look. This is the guy who has sold millions of books (most of them about Vienna, bears, wrestling and writers, but all fantastic). I've been told that I should simply write stories that 'will sell'. (Andy Partridge of XTC was once told the same thing. "Why don't you simply write a hit song?"  He replied, "What do you think I've been trying to do all these years. Mind you, he was also told that he needed to sound more like ZZ Top if he wanted to have a hit) 

I've had rejections where I've been told the writing was good, but x, y and z didn't happen. Perhaps the story simply wasn't good enough, and I accept that. My writing is improving, and I can see that. I also recognise it's close to selling at the markets I want to sell to.

Do you want to have memorable works that stand out with a unique voice? Do you want to be the Jimi, the Bobby, or the of writing?

P.S. - Congratulations to Alan Baxter on his three book deal with Harper Collins.One of the great things about the Australian SpecFic scene is how we revel in each other's success. I think we're mates - at least I consider him to be one now that he has a book deal. At any rate I bought Alan a beer last time I saw him. I think he owes me several now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


With barely two hours til the deadline, I subbed a story yesterday.

The writing went well, the story just seemed to flow, and the words came easily. A quick last minute crit (Thanks, David) and minor revision, and off it went. It's a story that I'm happy with, and I just hope the editors see it the same way I do.

I have a few more deadlines in the coming months. Fortunately I have stories in mind for most of these and they just need to be written. But I also need to make time to write some other story ideas that are nagging me.

And that's a good thing, right?