Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Universe Says Yes.

This has been a bizarre week here at Chateau Cameron.

I don't think it's any secret I've been questioning my writing for some time now. Wondering whether I'm wasting my time or not. Wondering if anyone even reads my words. Wondering whether I could even write. So it was fantastic to receive encouragement this week. It's been a long time since I've felt optimistic about my writing, and to receive two separate rejections that were positive and supportive was just what I needed.

On the work front, too, I have received encouragement from the unlikeliest of places. Not once, but three times in three separate incidents. Comments made by people who go out of their way to let you know you're doing a good job, and it's appreciated. That's enough to put a spring in even the most jaded of steps.

And then the universe chooses to send messages of support.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Metaphysical? Maybe. But it feels like there's more to it when you consider plans and make a decision, only to receive four or five distinct signs that you've done the right thing.

Oh, and then I woke up to more good news this morning. Not a sale, but information that put a smile on my face.

Have a great week.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Now Is The Spring Of My Writing Career.

Things are looking up. There's a new optimism in the air. Spring has finally sprung, or at least it has here in Australia. And while the temperature nor the weather has reached their usual early September standards, it's certainly milder than it has been.

Things are looking up on the writing front as well.

Last night I received the best pro-level rejection so far. It had lots of positives, lots of complimentary words, and solid, clear reasons why the story was being rejected. Not only that, there were clear indications the story had been read all the way through. (A major feat in itself, believe me. Most stories are rejected after a paragraph or two) Then the editor finished with a phrase I haven't seen from him before, and signed off more personally than he's ever done in the past.

In the past, I've received hundreds of rejections, so I know I'm not reading too much into this. This is a good story that's close. It might need some tweaking, but I feel it will sell.

Another story I'm working on has been out with a couple of friends who graciously offered to critique it for me. I've received one crit back already, and the comments are generally positive. My friend also took the time to point out the parts which didn't work for him (which is what I'm looking for rather than a list of positives) and I must say he's right. It's amazing what you miss when you don't see the story through other eyes.

So rewrite time here at Chateau Cameron. And all is good with the world.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Return Of The Notebook.

A couple of years ago I started carrying a notebook with me. From time to time I'd write descriptions of things I saw, interactions between people, quotes, signs, and story ideas. I figured it might be a good resource to keep, a way to get my brain working creatively. For a while I kept it up to date. Sometimes I felt like I was forcing words onto the page, and I was concerned it might read as pretentious - an insincere effort to describe things that weren't as interesting as I'd imagined (or pretended) them to be.

And so it fell by the wayside. Occasionally I'd think of something I'd seen, reach for the book and write it down. But the entries were sporadic at best. Months would go by without any new words in there. And then, a few weeks ago, I picked up the notebook and read through it. And I enjoyed what I read.

While the notes are not intended to be shared, I needn't have worried about how they came across. I enjoyed them, they relit memories of events. I recalled forgotten incidents and moments. And best of all, I found a few story ideas congeal in my brain.

So I've started writing notes again. I don't keep it with me all the time - it's a little impractical, but I'm using it regularly and the notebook is filling up.

I have Numbers Two and Three all lined up and ready to go.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Know Your Product.

I've spent the week analysing a bunch of short stories.  All these stories have been published in the one market. I've been rejected there a bunch of times and come close a few times, but it's a market to which I long to sell.

Editors are buyers. And they buy according to quality and taste. Magazines have particular bents, particular types of stories they publish. And so I do my research.

I believe I have the quality, but I've been wondering whether my stories are lacking a certain element that this particular editor likes. Or whether my writing style simply doesn't sit right with the editor.

I've completed my research, and I've come to several conclusions.

Now to see whether I can successfully apply them to my writing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why Neil?

"We knew about failure. We recognized failure. We knew it was there, we always looked for it. Everything we did was based on decisions on failure rather than success." ... "We grew up telling each other we were making mistakes when we made them. And that is how we learned."

- Chris Kraft.

"There is a time to be conservative and a time to be bold. And judgement, good judgement, tells you when to be what."

- Max Faget.

"The guy was really cool - cool, calm and energized. Neil was at his peak when he was operating at his peak. He was never in a frantic mode, but he was quick. I was very comfortable with him, not that I could predict everything he was going to say or decide. I think you had to work with him to understand him. He could make an analysis of a problem very quickly."

- Dave Scott.

"I wasn't chosen to be the first. I was just chosen to command that flight. Circumstance put me in that particular role." ... "I just don't deserve it."

- Neil Armstrong.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


We all make typos. And they can be difficult to find.

There was one story I wrote which passed through about five readers. Each made comments on it. I wrote and rewrote and edited that beast many times. I sold it to a quality market, where it then underwent further edits with an experienced editor.

So you can understand how surprised I was to open my contributor's copy only to find a typo on the first page of my story. I hadn't even read the published story yet. The mistake just leaped out from the page at me.

I checked the piece I had submitted. I checked the final version before publication. I checked the very first draft. And the typo was in all versions. No one, including myself, had picked it up.

Typos will beat the best of us, but there's no excuse for not using a spellchecker.

I was recently trawling around the internet, checking out writing websites and author's pages, and I was surprised to see some dreadful writing and really obvious mistakes on some of these pages. Not all these authors are known. Many are 'emerging' writers, by whichever definition you choose. Some I know of, although none personally.

It seems to me though that it's hard enough to get published at pro-levels without making it more difficult for yourself. The story might be superb, but editors aren't going to get that far if the page is unreadable. Not everyone can punctuate properly, but at least check your spelling. Oh, and for that one writer on that one blog in particular who complains they can't sell a story?  You should try commas and other punctuation marks sometimes.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Senseless Act.

I had some great moments with the students in my writing class this week.

I had them write a paragraph, a short one describing a particular place. Very few included senses at all. Then I got them to re-write it, and to include senses. Sounds, smells, sights, textures. And some of the pieces I saw were really good.

I spent six years living in Tokyo, so it's a special place for me. But just a few weeks ago , while walking past a restaurant (not Japanese), I was hit by a particular aroma that made me think of a certain street in Japan. While many senses can trigger memories, smells are particularly good at doing so.

Of course there are more than the five senses we all quote when asked. There's also the sense of balance, hunger, thirst, temperature, and so on. And referring to these in your writing help make the words and the worlds come alive.

And that's an important way to connect with a reader. Senses are familiar all of us, and they will trigger a response at some level.

And in writing, an emotional response is a good thing.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Is That A Light Up Ahead In This Tunnel?

I actually did some writing this week. Not a lot, but some. And I even got some words I was happy with.

I've started teaching a new semester of students in my high school writers' class. It's an elective for 14 year olds who want more English, and perhaps don't want all the usual elective subjects like sport, or technology. Now in its second year, it's proving to be popular. And I'm seeing some great results from the kids.

But this week, while teaching kids about openings to stories, I had a few ideas of my own. So I wrote three openings. Three random pieces from nowhere that have given me ideas. And I plan to expand them into fully formed tales.

I may be coming to the end of my motivational slump. And that's something I feel good about. I hate feeling guilty about not writing.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Drought.

I haven't had a story sale since late last year. A few good, personal rejections. A few not so personal rejections. A few rejections that were so impersonal they almost hurt. For a number of reasons, I had reason to think one or two of these would be acceptances. I was wrong.

In the meantime I have had a couple of publications. Good magazines, with high profiles and reputations. There was even a decent review.

But the drought I'm experiencing isn't only in regards to sales. My motivation seems to have dried up as well. Not a writer's block. I have ideas, and I know how to 'make' ideas, just the willingness to sit down and write those words.It's been months since I've sat down to write new words. Well, new fiction, at least.

I started the new semester at work this week. A new group of students in my Writer's class. I've started showing them how to structure stories, and I learned a couple of points myself.

I'm hoping this is what it takes to push me back into the writer's chair. And yes, I realise it's something I need to make myself do.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Back To Work.

I've just finished two weeks' holiday. And, of course, I was busy. I had a list of jobs to do, and didn't manage to finish the list.

I got very little writing done. One good day last week where I wrote some good words, only to discover they had disappeared the next morning. No I'm reasonably computer savvy, and I save as I go. And yet that document is gone. Completely. I spent far too much time trying to recover the file, but to no avail. I simply cannot explain what happened to it.

The next morning I rewrote as much of it as I could remember, and I must admit I think I did a better job on the second occasion. Of course I cannot compare the two pieces, but I was more satisfied when I read it back. I think it might be a keeper.

But back to work tomorrow, teaching. And it's going to be a busy term. I must work out the best way to make time for me, to make time to write.

To motivate myself to write after teaching English at school, working with words all day.

This I something at which I must work.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Red In Tooth And Claw.

My writing buddy and crit-fiend, David McDonald, has a story out in the latest issue of Dimension6.

Although I've yet to read this issue, I read an earlier incarnation of Red in Tooth and Claw a while ago. I enjoyed it then, and I have no doubt it's improved since.

Congratulations, David. A fine sale to a quality magazine.

Dimension6 continues to be published three times a year, and is free to download and distribute. Keith Stevenson, the editor and publisher, produces high quality stories and five issues in he is yet to disappoint.

Issue #5 also includes stories by SG Larner and Jessica May Lin.

Run, don't walk, over to the Coeur de Lion website and download.

What? Are you still here?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

It's The Write Time.

I'm on term break now, and I must say I've been hanging out for this one.

It's been a very, very busy semester. And, for a variety of reason, it's probably been the busiest time I've had teaching in the past ten years. I have a few things to do during the coming two weeks, but writing is definitely one of them.

I must sit down daily and get words out. I have to get back into that habit. Last week I managed some words, but nowhere near as many as I would like. I was able to sub a couple of stories as well, but even though these are markets that promise rapid responses, I'm still waiting to hear back on those.

And that other story, the one that's been sitting at Analog for 135 days.  Yup, it seems as though my prediction was correct and response times have blow out again.

In the meantime, apart from waiting with fingers crossed on all these stories, I guess the only thing I can do is write. And that starts again tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Words, Words Everywhere.

Lots of words. Thousands of them. None of them for sale. I wrote them all, but they've been given away and I don't even know how many of them will ever be read.

In the past few weeks I've marked lots of essays and written hundreds of school reports. Then there's been the proofreading, corrections and tweaking to get the comments just right. It's not a pleasant job, but one that has to be done. It's one of the compromise aspects of my career, one of the roles I must do if I want to do the actual teaching stuff.

The creative side of my writing is still quiet, although some would joke the reports I write are fiction. But one of my mentors tells me to take those 'report' words, use them. There are narratives in there. Hopes, dreams, success, failure - all you have to do is sort them out. Use some, twist them.

He's right, of course. He usually is. And he's far more experienced with words than I am.

I will play with those words. I will contort them, slash them, hack them within an inch of their lives.

Another experiment. Will it result in anything useable? Who knows? But that is what experiments are about. And it may plant a seed, something that leads to something that leads to something else.

They are, after all, only words.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How Many Missions?

There are times I feel like Yossarian in Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Not that I imagine millions of people are trying to kill me and no one will listen. In my case that would be paranoia. Although as Yossarian was in the middle of a war it's likely he was speaking more than some truth there.

No, I'm talking about his missions.

Yossarian simply wants to go home, but his command continue to increase the number of missions he has to fly in order to do so. This is usually done when he's only one or two missions shy of the target number. And so, of course, he can never get there.

Earlier this year, I submitted a story to Analog magazine at a time when they had reported response times of around 70 days. While that may seem high, it's actually much lower than the 180ish days they were reporting a year or two ago. And so I waited.

Around the 70 day mark, I checked the response times, only to find they had increased to around 90 days. A few more weeks wait then.

Three weeks later, when I was on 90 days, they had increased out to around 110 days. Two weeks after that it was around 135 days.

I'm currently sitting at 119 days and there has not been a reported response for two weeks. Is that because no one has recorded a response, or because the editors have given up reading slush and all gone home?

Either way I'm sure the response time will have increased.

In the end Yossarian had to make a deal in order to go home. He had to pretend to be friends with his commanders.

I'm willing to do that. Analog Editors, would you like to come over for drinks some time?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Happy , Happy Thoughts.

Three times I've written this blogpost. Three times I've deleted it. Each one has been on a different topic. And then common sense got the better of me, and I begged off.

There seems to be a lot to be negative about at the moment. I see it on social media on a daily basis. Writing, publishing, awards, work, health, relationships, the environment, politics. And football. Mostly football.

Oh yeah. Something is definitely wrong at my beloved Essendon.

And no, all those categories above apply to me and my life. But I made the decision several years ago, when I was reluctantly dragged into the twenty-first century and Facebook, that I would only share happy thoughts, honest thoughts, and not permit my voice to become negative.

I've seen it happen. Negativity only leads to a downward spiral from which a return can be difficult.

So happy thoughts this week at Chateau Cameron. I have a job. I have a home. I have great family and friends. I have books. I have music. I have film. I have art.

Life is good.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Continuum 11.

It's that time of year. Continuum 11 is on next weekend, and the program is looking great.

For those who have never heard of Continuum, here's the description from their website.

"Continuum is an annual Melbourne speculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture … we sink our teeth into it all!

2015 marks our 11th convention, and we’re taking the time to celebrate Australia.  Not in a yellow-and-green-how-many-gold-medals-did-that-koala-get-in-the-sports way, but looking at Australia’s history and future, and also Australian genre and media, our fandom, and our people."

This will be my seventh Continuum. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I won't be able to attend the entire weekend as I usually do. I'm even unsure of when I can manage to drop in, But I will definitely be there Saturday afternoon.

I'm only on one panel this time, Religions in Spec Fic, alongside David McDonald, RJ Anderson, Alexandra Pierce and Stephanie Lai. 
Religions are portrayed as good and bad forces in specfic, but in Western SF there are certain long-standing traditions. What are "neglected" religions? Has the way religion been portrayed changed along with its changing role in society? What are some of the mistakes writers make when incorporating religion?
Come along to Continuum. Check out the Religions panel. And if you're not even sure you want to go, Friday night of the program is a gold coin donation entry.

You can't get anything better for that price these days.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Sunshine Bright And Darkness Deep.

And so I can announce my story, Bloodlust, has been selected for inclusion in the inaugural Australian Horror Writers Association showcase, In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep. Slated for publication at Halloween, the TOC and cover were published online last week.

I'm pleased to be included alongside name writers like Marty Young, Cameron Trost, Jason Nahrung, Joanne Anderton and Dan Rabarts.

I love the cover artwork by Greg Chapman.

And the blurb? Those South-East Asian vampiric gangsters would be mine. I first encountered them when I was walking through the KLCC underground passages in Kuala Lumpur. They didn't want to stay there, hidden away.
"In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep is an anthology like no other. The tales herein will take you on a weird and terrifying journey. You will set out on a road trip and find yourself trapped in the arid Australian outback where a little girl and her grandfather struggle to survive. There are isolated farmhouses threatened by bushfires and bullets, and rainforests teeming with bloodthirsty bugs. The cities are full of trouble too. The murky waters of the Brisbane River hide spiteful spirits and the suburbs are infested with insane inhabitants masquerading as ordinary human beings. Then, you will leave Australia, departing from Melbourne, to hunt down vampiric gangsters in Southeast Asia, before sailing future seas and visiting realms beyond this world altogether. This inaugural showcase anthology features the work of just a handful of the many talented and darkly imaginative authors who make up the Australian Horror Writers’ Association. If you are unfamiliar with Australian horror, let this book be just the first step on a long voyage of discovery."
The River Slurry • by Rue Karney
Triage • by Jason Nahrung
Upon the Dead Oceans • by Marty Young
Beast • by Natalie Satakovski
The Grinning Tide • by Stuart Olver
Our Last Meal • by J. Ashley Smith
Veronica's Dogs • by Cameron Trost
Bullets • by Joanne Anderton
Saviour • by Mark McAuliffe
The Hunt • by Mark Smith-Briggs
The Monster in the Woods • by Kathryn Hore
Road Trip • by Anthony Ferguson
Bloodlust • by Steve Cameron
Elffingern • by Dan Rabarts

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I Love A Good Review.

And this is a very good one.

My story, Outside World, which was published in Aurealis #80 last week, has been reviewed on Tangent. And the reviewer had some nice things to say about my story.

This is a story that came about from thinking about a couple of other stories while I was climbing Little Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka. The original idea certainly wasn't fully formed and needed a lot of cajoling to become the story it is now. And some rewrites. But I'm pleased with how it ended up, and it pretty much holds true to my original vision.

The review?
"Outside World," by Steve Cameron, is an allegory for people who are forcibly dispossessed in the real world. Veronica, the narrator, is the last of a small community which has been ordered to vacate to make room for a colony of stranded aliens. The aliens don't want to have to do this any more than she does, but her town sat on a mine that, while mostly stripped-out, still contains enough ore for the aliens to build what they need to repair their crippled ship. Refreshingly, they are not portrayed as evil: the one that we see, Aldreth, is just a person who wants to go home. As with "Loyalty,” (the other story in Aurealis #80) it's a variation on a concept that has been done often already, but Veronica's grief is deeply convincing, her character complex despite the shortness of the story.
Yep. I'll take a review like that any day. Thanks, Tangent.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Vale: BB King.

I'm not sure when I first became aware of BB King, but I suspect it was in my Blues Brothers days when I'd hang out with Rob and listen to vinyl by artists like Solomon Burke and Sonny Terry. I do remember being captivated by those sweet little licks he'd play. Nothing flashy, nothing difficult, but no excess either. Every note told a story, and the story was the blues.

I saw BB King only once, sometime in the 80s. What a great show! I would have loved to have seen him again, and again, but it wasn't to be. And now it's too late.

If you haven't read his autobiography, I recommend that you do so as soon as possible. He truly was poor, being the son of a sharecropper, picking cotton as a child and basically living alone from the age of ten. He had a real tough start to his life, but it speaks testaments to the man that he did what he did from those humble beginnings.

Last night I played two BB King albums back to back and raised a glass of red wine to his memory.

He was 89.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Outside World.

I'm pleased to announce I've finally made the pages of Aurealis. Issue 80 includes my story, Outside World.

I first picked up a copy of Aurealis way back in 1990 as I passed by a news-stand at the station. (Yes, I paid for it.) Issue #2, with artwork by Shaun Tan and stories by Damien Broderick, Rosaleen Love, Paul Collins and Stephen Dedman, among others. Little did I know that one day I would be writing and they would actually publish one of my stories.

But now they have.

Outside World is a story of immigration, a story that has its roots in two other tales I read. The Arrival by Jean Arasanayagam, and Sky Burial by Xinran.  

I was in Sri Lanka, climbing Little Adam's Peak and thinking about these stories when the idea for this piece popped into my head. Not fully formed, unfortunately. In fact it took a lot of consideration, several rewrites and a major change in the ending after critiques from my friends at SuperNOVA writing group. It would have made a great story to tell at drinks if I'd been climbing Adam's Peak rather than Little Adam's Peak, for that is where Arthur C. Clarke was when he looked up and imagined space elevators for the first time.

Aurealis 80  is available here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reading The Beatles.

I'm alternating my reading at the moment, a bit of non-fiction between the fiction. A couple of Spec-Fic magazines thrown in for good measure. Lots of short stories, as this is the form in which I've been writing thus far. But in my non-fiction moments I've been getting back (ha! - get it?) into one of my great loves, The Beatles.

If I had to choose only one band that I could listen to for the rest of my life, then it would have to be The Beatles. I've been listening to them since I was a kid, and I never tire of them. There's a lot of music that speaks to me in ways that other artforms cannot, but music by The Beatles does so more consistently and more meaningfully than most.

But as a whole cultural phenomenon that came to represent everything about the sixties, I find their story fascinating. And so I read about them. A lot. I probably have more books about The Beatles than on any other subject.

It's been a while since I've read much about them. The last few months has seen me read three or four Beatles books, and I've loved every second of it. Insights, different viewpoints, little tales about meeting them, seeing them, descriptions of concerts or events. And every now and again I find something that I didn't know about, something that stuns me, impresses me, or just makes me jealous I wasn't ten years older. Makes me wish I'd lived the sixties as a teenager and managed to see them live.

But I have my little Beatles moments I cherish. Standing next to a guy as he was opening all the mail addressed to George Martin. Sitting at the console in studio two where they recorded just about everything. Touching the keyboard Billy Preston played in the Get Back sessions. Playing the piano Paul used on Lady Madonna. Standing at the Strawberry Field gates in a mist so magical and mystical I half expected Lennon to walk towards me.

There truly will never be another band like The Beatles. At least not for me.

Check out my Beatles page here.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Thoraiya, Tabbouleh And Tor.

My friend, Thoraiya Dyer, has promised Taboulleh for everyone. And that's a promise I intend to make her keep. For everyone? Well, for me at least.

You see, I love middle eastern food. Lebanese, Turkish, Arabian - offer it, and I'm there.

I've only met Thoraiya once in person, which is a shame and a situation that must be rectified. She's lovely, and has a good heart. And yet the Tabbouleh offer is not simply her being generous, but a celebration. Giddy with excitement she made an offer she may yet regret.

Thoraiya is a superb writer, and after a stack of rejections she's landed a three book deal with TOR.

And that is a big deal.

For those not up on the Spec-Fic world, TOR is a name publisher, with a proud history and a respected name. And I'm excited my friend Thoraiya will have novels under their imprint.

She's sold well before, in short story markets. She has a collection and a novella out with Twelfth Planet Press. And I feel honoured to have shared a TOC with her in Epilogue, published by Fablecroft.

Congratulations, Thoraiya. I'm proud of you.

Oh, and Thoraiya kinda rhymes with Himalaya, not with her surname.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Motivation And Such.

Last post I mentioned I was lacking motivation in my writing at the moment. I'm kind of sad to report that hasn't improved.

I currently lack motivation for a couple of reasons of which I'm well and truly aware, although I choose not to go into any detail here. I've spent a bit of time reflecting and looking into why I feel this way, and I must admit to not knowing what to do about it. Apart from, you know, just writing.

But I want my heart to be in it. And writing just for writing sake becomes little more than exercises that lack soul.

I work in education, and continually I hear teachers give students examples of athletes as role models in their academic studies. Just this week I heard about Michael Jordan who was cut from his high school basketball team. I would like to point out the speaker also mentioned Edison, Einstein and The Beatles who were all told at some point they wouldn't succeed. And yet it seems athletes are the examples we most often use. I've done it myself.

Last week I was told about a runner, someone who is, for the very first time, undertaking one of those iron-man thingies where they run, swim and cycle ridiculous distances. This runner, who is a friend of a friend, committed himself to finishing this event. And so he woke at 4.30 every morning, ran kilometres, trained hard, focused on where he needed to improve, controlled his diet - all the things athletes do when they are training towards something.

I have much admiration for people who commit to something like this.

I considered this as a role model for my own motivation. But as I thought about it, the less it works. While there are certain similarities, the analogy between creative and athletic endeavours doesn't satisfy me enough to be useful.

An athlete like the runner mentioned above, has a specific date and event he is working towards. I'm sure he has a goal time he would like to achieve, but I'm almost as certain he'd be happy just to finish the event. And should he not achieve either of those goals, he would be able to measure how far he fell short and what he would need to do to complete it next time.

But a writer like myself is writing a bunch of short stories,  one after another, sending them out and hoping to make a sale. And there is no second place. We either sell the story or we don't. IF we don't, we get a rejection, and it's rare they contain detailed feedback on how close we got to a sale. More often it's a generic No, Thanks. There isn't a single event we are working towards, where we do the same thing over and over and over to improve in preparation. (No, rewriting doesn't count.)

That's not to say we don't have goals. To sell to this or that particular market, to sign an agent, to make a three book deal - whatever. But so much of this stuff is outside our control.

All we can do is keep writing, hoping we improve, listen to the feedback we do actually get and then remember much of it is subjective. It's all about trying to tighten our techniques while keeping the stories human and relatable.

And a lot of this is undertaken blindly, hopefully progressing by feel or self realisation. Unlike runners, we don't always have the indicators that we're shaving seconds off our time, or getting a faster start. Or even improving.

Maybe I need a coach or a mentor.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Carrot Beats The Stick.

No new rejections, but no sales either. Writing continues slowly as I struggle to find time. It's been a busy week, the first week back as school after the term break.

Parent teacher interviews, getting back up to speed on new units of work, organising plans for this term, chasing up students who may be behind in submitting work, and a host of other minutiae not even I am interested in.

The little I have been managing is rewrites rather than new words. I have a few deadlines approaching and I'm sure I can make them, but it'll have to wait until next week before I even start considering those. Ideas run through and depart as I realise they're not satisfying enough. One or two are keepers, but need to be smashed against other ideas to work. Into my notebook they go.

I've been teaching students how to beat writers block, or how to get ideas when you're sitting in a classroom with no real thoughts on how to proceed. Not only did I learn some stuff myself, but as I was showing the class, I got a bunch of ideas which also went into the notebook.

Parent teacher interviews were positive, and I found myself speaking a lot about motivation - both intrinsic and extrinsic. And I think that's something I need to consider in regards to my own writing at the moment. Self reflection time ahead.

It's time to get myself re-energised, re-enthused about my words. I need to get lost in a story. I need a carrot to lure me.

Another sale would probably help.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reaction Time.

There are some wonderful online tools available for researching publishing markets.

These days I use The Grinder. Its search functions make it quite easy to find current markets that align with the story for which I'm looking for a home. I can easily locate data on acceptance and rejection rates, payment, SFWA accreditation and so on. But for me, one of the most valuable functions is the ability to look at a market's response times.

Asimov's has been doing well. Their responses in the past few months have dropped from a few months to a few days. I've heard a whisper Sheila Williams has a slush reader on board now. And although I've now gone from a couple of personal rejections back to form rejections (the new slushreader obviously doesn't understand my work - ha!), it's wonderful to be able to send that piece out again within a very short time.

Analog, on the other hand, is currently still up around the four month mark. They were only a few months when Stan Schmidt was editor, but when Trevor Quachri took over, it shot up to over six months, and for that reason I didn't submit there for a long time.

There's another magazine I've been considering for some time now. It's not pro-level, but has a decent reputation and publishes some good stories by decent names. They don't pay very much - simply a token payment - but I was fine with that. It's not always about the money. Sometimes it's about the resume building.

But I was shocked when I conducted my research and discovered their response time was close to eight months.

Eight months!

Imagine I write a story and send it to them today. Just before Christmas they may respond with a form rejection, saying 'thanks for your submission but we cannot use this story at this time. We wish you luck in placing it elsewhere.'

Now I've had some stories that were rejected six or seven times before being accepted. If every market was like this, my story might not see light of day for five years or more.

On the other hand, let's imagine they choose to buy it. After eight months. It's typical for publication to occur six to eighteen months after purchase. So, it is possible I could sell it and it might be published two and a half years after submission.

All for twenty dollars or so.

Sorry, but an eight month response for a token market is ridiculous.

Yes, writers complain about response times. Publishers complain about writers submitting their stories to multiple markets at the same time. But I think you can see why some do it.

Me? I've permanently crossed that market off my list and choose to submit elsewhere.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

In Which I Choose Not To Weigh In.

I could post about the Hugo nominations, the Sad Puppy and Social Justice Warrior factions, the cheers of elation and the calls to vote for 'No Awards.' I could post about the infighting, the name-calling and the rest.

But I won't. I can't be bothered.

I'm having a lovely Easter weekend with my wife. I've seen some great films, read some cool books and plan to spend today writing.

In my universe I've had a mixed week. A couple of rejections I had thought might go at least personal but were mere form instead. A couple of good days writing with a submission of which I'm proud. And I was notified about the publication of a couple of online posts about me.

Zena Shapter has been running a series of blogposts about writers and music. I was asked what piece of music inspires me at the moment. You can listen to my selection here.

Meanwhile Lee Battersby is in the middle of a series on Writers and their fetishes. Yep, sounds kinky. And while that wouldn't surprise me with Lee, it's actually an old fashioned use of the word meaning ritual. So it's not so much about weird tastes and desires, and more about what do I put in place to write. Here's the link.

As for the factional infighting?  Whether you're in or out, included or not, enjoy the books you're reading and have a great Easter.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Gradual Decline Of KL Noir.

Fixi Novo is the English language imprint of a Malaysian publisher. I first picked up a couple of their titles when I was in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago and have bought more each time I visit. They look great, they're generally high quality, and they give me an insight into another culture and its storytelling.

KL Noir is a set of anthologies published over the past few years. Consisting of four volumes (subtitled Red, White, Blue and Yellow - based on the colours of the Malaysian flag) this series published stories looking into the dark underbelly of Kuala Lumpur. Fixi Novo held open submissions, attracting writers from all backgrounds and publishing experiences.

How much do I like Fixi Novo? Enough that I have now collected seven or eight of their books. Enough that I subbed a story set in KL. Enough that I was disappointed when it wasn't accepted.

Red and White set a high standard. I enjoyed the majority of stories in these volumes and looked forward to Blue and Yellow, which have been published since I was last in KL. At first I tried to order them from a bookstore, only to be told the postage would be more than triple the price of the books alone. Finally I knew someone who was visiting Malaysia on holiday, and I begged them to pick these two books up for me.

Boy, was I disappointed.  I don't know whether the standard of submissions dropped, or whether it was the selections made by the editors, but I was seriously underwhelmed. There were a few exceptions, a few really good stories, but for the most part they were below average. Some were poorly written, some were poorly edited. Many simply weren't noir at all. Quite a few were completely ridiculous.

Blue even had an extraordinary number of reprints included, which didn't make sense for an original series. Yellow was, for the most part, dull and boring.

I figured I might be alone here. I might be the only one that thought this, but last night I discovered these online reviews, (Blue and Yellow) which, for the most part, I agreed with. Well done, Mrs Giggles.

Fixi Novo. You have some wonderful writers in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a fantastic city about which to write. Don't let your standards slip.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's About Time.

Despite having five stories slated for publication this year, it's been about four months since I've had a sale.

I've had a bunch of close calls. Making shortlists, personal rejections from markets I once only dreamed of subbing to, and great feedback. But they're not sales. And that's what I want.

On the one hand I guess it means I'm improving. On the other hand it can be frustrating getting so close only to be rejected. But a miss is as good as a mile, they used to say. Close, but no cigar.

These are good stories, and I have no doubt they will sell. It would be nice, though, if it were soon.

In other news I'm currently setting up a music blog with an old friend. We're currently determining the scope and the format. And the name.

A good name is vital, and we've started shortlisting. More information on that when we're closer to launch.

Have a great week. I plan to.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

More Tension.

Crank it up.

The tension, that is.

It's something I've been told many times during my writing career. More tension. More pain. I thought that was exactly what I was doing, but it's only in the past year that I've started to realise exactly how little  the crises I was creating were.

So many of the characters in my earlier stories were far too passive, and not enough happened to them. The crises within stories been to be amped, the fears of the characters need to be raised, they need to face the risk of losing everything.

This is something I now try to do with all my stories. Sure, there are stories and times when the whole passive thing works. But mostly not.

If you're not hurting your characters, then you maybe need to consider it.

More crises. More tension. More pain.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Three Heads Make Sense.

It's sometimes difficult to know how much attention to pay to readers' comments on a story.

The first time I received crits on a story was when I was just starting to write. Lots of comments, lots of comments. I tired to incorporate every single one of them. And sucked the life from the story.

Those changes were discarded. The story was rewritten, later one when I'd learned some discernment and had suggestions from someone I respected.

This week I had a rejection from a magazine I thought might like my story. It was an interesting rejection, though, because there had been three slushreaders, and the rejection included their comments.

And all three readers said very similar things. And, when I thought about it, the suggestions made sense.

I slashed into that story, armed with a will to improve it, and rewrote it in a matter of days. And I believe it's for the better.

Thank you, slushers. I appreciate it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

And In The End, The Love You Take Is Equal To The Love You Make.

I've been listening to The Beatles a lot recently.

Anyone who knows me well may not think this is particularly surprising. I collect Beatles music, books, newspaper cuttings. I've read hundreds of books on them (yes, hundreds) and I'm even acknowledged in one for my comments and critiquing. But for the past few years I've listened to them in much the same way a casual fan would listen to their albums.

I used to listen more like a scholar, (OK, some would say obsessive freak), comparing this mix with that mix, this take with that take, even this pressing with that pressing. I'd listen to hours and hours of Get Back rehearsals, listen to them as they created and constructed their songs. As they chatted about the weather, the news, even what's for lunch. I loved nothing more than finding a fragment of conversation or (oh my goodness) a song I'd never heard before. But with the advent of the internet, I think it all became too easily available and I no longer had to hunt for things. Perhaps too I had access to too much and I became blase about what there was.

But a break is as good as a holiday, they say, and I'm back into it, deep into 1969 rehearsals and listening to perhaps the greatest band the world will ever know as they implode and self destruct.

It makes me sad.

I watched the rooftop session last night. The last live performance they ever gave. It was a cold January morning and they shuffled up onto the roof of the Apple building to run through some songs. And for a few precious moments, you can see them happy, lost in the songs, actually enjoying making music together. Which is unbelievable considering the misery the rest of those three weeks were for them.

And then with a couple of police officers telling them to pull the plug, the dream was over.

None of them could be bothered even touching those rehearsal tapes. They were given to Phil Spector who cobbled the Let It Be album together. Sure, they went back into the studio six months later and recorded Abbey Road, a swansong, but it was never going to be the same again.

Yoko wasn't at fault for the breakup. She was a symptom. As was Linda, Ringo's film-making and George's exploration of all things Indian and spiritual.

If only. If only John and Paul had agreed to sit down and work things out. If only the others had been keen to continue. If only The Beatles were still The Beatles.

Watching them on the rooftop, grinning, flubbing lines, living in the moment is exciting. But it's also sad.

Only a few months after Woodstock, the sixties were over, The Beatles on the rooftop and The Rolling Stones at Altamont had killed the dream.

Write. Read. Make art. Create music. Live the dream. Don't regret. The time is now.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Openings And Scraps.

The weekend was hot. 36c both days. Fortunately for me I was down the coast with my wife.

The foreshore was lovely. Crowded later, but we went out before it got too warm while there weren't too many people on the sands. The weekend was brilliant. I drank cold beer, ate prawn pasta, nachos, read a lot and generally just relaxed. Then to finish it all off, breakfast this morning was amazing.

So I was playing some music as we drove down there. My wife made some comments about the song, and bam - I wrote the opening to a story in my head.

An idea is not a story. Nor is an opening. And I had nothing more.  But I started playing with what I'd written, wrote a few more lines before I needed to know where I was going next. I opened a few files, a few unfinished scraps I'd written in the past, things I thought I might use one day, or simple writing exercises I'd done for fun. One of these leaped out at me, and as soon as I collided it with my new opening, I knew they would work together.

Within the hour I had the entire story outlined and started writing it.

I have 2,000 words of this beast done. I have a good feeling about it. I'm excited by it.

A productive weekend, a relaxing weekend. I like those.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bleah And Bleah.

More rejections this week, which was disappointing but not devastating. I don't actually worry about them so much anymore, although I obviously prefer sales. I had hoped these pieces would sell to these particular markets. But they didn't, yet I know they will sell because I know they're good stories.

I already have five stories slated for release this year, but I want more. I guess that makes me a writer.

I didn't have the best week. A couple of stupid comments from people who should know better, as well as a few situations that frustrated me. And then those rejections.


I'm hoping this coming week will be vastly improved. And if the events of last week is the worst than can happen to me, then I am indeed privileged.

Oh, and editors? Buy my stories. You know you want to.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Five Already.

I've been back at work for the past week, and the start of the school year can be tough. Lots of meetings, lots of planning, lots of everything.  Which means it has been a little harder than normal to ensure I get my writing done.

I'm still there, though. Still writing everyday. Not as many words as I would like, but some. And that's good.

A few rejections this month too. Not enough to make me give up writing, but disappointing all the same. Especially when I was close on a couple of them. close enough to receive personal rejections which indicated how close I was. Two of those were pro-level markets, and I feel I'm close to a breakthrough there. One of them is a market I've tried a few times. I'm starting to suspect my writing style is simply not a fit for them, and I may not bother subbing there again.

I have a couple of markets like that. A couple where I suspect I'm either not a fit, or I think I've been rejected for other reasons. And that's fine. Editors can choose and buy whatever they like. But I have no plans to waste my time writing stories specifically for them when I feel they aren't going to be bought. I'll write the stories I like, and if they happen to align with those markets I may consider subbing.

On the other hand I've had another sale. This now means I've had three for this year. Unfortunately I'm unable to give further details on any of them. Add these to the two stories I sold at the end of last year and I already have five stories slated for publication this year.

Cool, huh?

I will, of course, share more information when I'm permitted to do so. In the meantime, those rejections are being sent out again. And the whole waiting game starts over.

Why ever would you want to be a writer?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Black Album.

There's a scene in Richard Linklater's film, Boyhood, where the character played by Ethan Hawke presents his son with a compilation CD he created. This disc, The Black Album by The Beatles, is his attempt at combining tracks by the post-breakup John, Paul, George and Ringo. (Nevermind that there is already a Black Album by the Beatles, a well known and common bootleg from the Get Back sessions) It appears as though art imitates life, as Hawke created this album in real life and presented it to his daughter.

In the film, Hawke suggests that Beatles solo albums don't succeed as too much Paul is too sweet, too much John has too much self-involvement, too much George is too much spirituality, and too much Ringo is...  well, too much Ringo.

He's right.

The Beatles were greater than the sum of their parts, and the balance of the four individuals had to be just so. The creation of an imagined 70s Beatles album is not an easy task. It's something I've tried many times and I've never felt I managed to do successfully. The balance was always wrong, the tracks didn't flow, the music and themes were too disparate.

I had few rules. The songs all had to come from a similar period of time (no mixing Imagine with Coming Up). Any song that was about the break-up wouldn't be allowed, (Let Me Roll It / How Do You Sleep?) as they would never have been written had they continued. The contribution balance had to be similar to a real Beatles album. For example, only one song by Ringo.

I was eager to check out Ethan Hawke's Black Album as the tracklisting is readily available online. So how does it stand up?

First listen, and I'm pleased by how well it works. A lot of thought has gone into this, into the track selections and ordering. A few more listens, mostly while driving, and the problems become evident. It's not much later and the discs have been relegated to the bottom of the glove compartment.

Firstly, it's sprawling and unwieldy. Three CDs, which translates to approximately five records. Not even the Beatles would have attempted that. Far too long and almost unmanageable.

Secondly, the tracks cover far too many years. Here Today would never have been recorded and released alongside If Not For You.

Thirdly, there are some tracks there that would never have been recorded by The Beatles. I've heard arguments that Lennon would never have supported the recording of something like Silly Love Songs. Possibly, but I suspect they'd have happened. History shows he didn't prevent either Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da or Maxwell's Silver Hammer from making their way onto vinyl and he hated both of those with a passion. No, I'm talking about inane novelty songs, like Helen Wheels or the No No Song.

OK, taste comes into it. But even so, how can you include a trite cover like the No No Song but ignore I'm The Greatest?

Also there are a number of songs that don't belong for other reasons. Hawke included God and Mother from Plastic Ono Band. This album was basically John undergoing therapy, and are far too personal and bitter for inclusion amongst the others.

The biggest problem is outside Hawke's control. That balance he spoke of, the need to find harmony between the four Beatles extends far deeper than simply balancing their songs. The Beatles worked best when they played off each other within the tracks.

Having said that, the tracks do flow well. Band on the Run opens, leading into My Sweet Lord, then Jealous Guy and Photograph.  A formidable selection that works well. Ethan Hawke has done a fine job in creating the Black Album, but I'd like to see a collection where the tracks are selected from a more limited time period selected and an album of only 45 minutes or so.

Are you up for that challenge Ethan? I'll even give you a hand.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tokyo To Toronto.

I've just returned from visiting my friend Allan in Toronto. We were pretty close in Tokyo, and always stayed in touch, but we haven't actually seen each other since 1996.

It was great, and we very quickly fell back into the easy relaxed friendship we had in those days. Our interests and tastes are still very similar so we discussed a lot of film, music and literature. There are not many people who I can sit and discuss The Beatles with, and even fewer who are familiar with the differences between various takes of their songs.

But I'm back now, and almost ready to return to work this week.

It's going to be interesting, returning to my old school. A place I feel so familiar and yet have not been part of for almost a year.

But 2015 is the year of changes for me. In many ways. And, I hope, most of those changes will be for the better.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


Dear Steve's story,

Thanks for coming along to the party. It was great having you here.

You're a lot of fun. You were well written and action packed and we loved everything you said, but ultimately you just don't fit in with the rest of the guests. I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to leave now.

Don't take this the wrong way. You're a good story, and we hope you can find another party where you will fit in. We'd certainly be delighted should one of your friends join us at our next party.

With love,

The other stories who were accepted.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ditmar Awards Again

Nominations have opened for the 2014 Ditmar Awards.

I'm eligible with a whole bunch of stories, but there are two in particular that have achieved some success and recognition.


published by Mike Resnick in Galaxy's Edge #7. It has garnered some great reviews, and was selected by Mike for inclusion in The Best of Galaxy's Edge.

The Last of the Butterflies

published by Keith Stevenson in Dimension6 #3. Again some great reviews, and reprinted in Dimension6: Annual Collection 2014.

Should you feel these stories are worthy of a nomination, I would certainly appreciate the support.
Nominations for the 2015 Australian SF (“Ditmar”) awards are now open and will remain open until one minute before midnight Perth time on Sunday, 1st of February, 2015 (ie. 11.59pm, GMT+8). Postal nominations must be postmarked no later than Friday, 30th of January, 2015.
The current rules, including Award categories can be found HERE.

You must include your name with any nomination. Nominations will be accepted only from natural persons active in fandom, or from full or supporting members of Swancon 40, the 2015 Australian National SF Convention. Where a nominator may not be known to the Ditmar subcommittee, the nominator should provide the name of someone known to the subcommittee who can vouch for the nominator’s eligibility. Convention attendance or membership of an SF club are among the criteria which qualify a person as “active in fandom”, but are not the only qualifying criteria. If in doubt, nominate and mention your qualifying criteria. If you received this email directly, you almost certainly qualify.

You may nominate as many times in as many Award categories as you like, although you may only nominate a particular person, work or achievement once. The Ditmar subcommittee, which is organised under the auspices the Standing Committee of the Natcon Business Meeting, will rule on situations where eligibility is unclear. A partial and unofficial eligibility list, to which everyone is encouraged to add, can be found HERE.

Online nominations an be made via this form.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

On A Tangent.

What a great way to start the New Year.

I woke up this morning to find my story, Holland:1944, had made Tangent's recommended reading list. 

This story has a strange genesis. 

The short version is it evolved from an anonymous post I made on a forum in response to comments made by someone who, I found out much later, had been bullying some friends of mine. That post became a running joke on the forum for well over a year before this story was published. 

The long version is probably best told over a couple of beers - especially if you're buying.

Mike Resnick bought the story for Galaxy's Edge #7, and then selected it for his anthology, The Best of Galaxy's Edge.  Tangent's list is quite long, so I won't reproduce it here. Congratulations to everyone who made the list. Below are inclusions by some of my friends.

"A Perfect Day Off the Farm" by Patty Jansen (Extreme Planets)
"The Nursery Corner" by Kaaron Warren (Fearsome Magics)
"Elsa's Spheres" by Marina J. Lostetter (IGMS #37)
"Human Strandings and the Role of the Xenobiologist" by Thoraiya Dyer (Clarkesworld #90)
"Holland: 1944" by Steve Cameron (Galaxy's Edge #7)
"The Nechronomator" by Brad R. Torgersen (Galaxy's Edge #7)
"Pocket Full of Mumbles" by Tina Gower (Galaxy's Edge #8)
"Honey, Plums and Cinnamon" by Andrea G. Stewart (Galaxy's Edge #9)
"Matial" by Lou J. Berger (Galaxy's Edge #9)
"Song of the Sargasso" by Marina J. Lostetter (Galaxy's Edge #11)
"The Mandelbrot Bet" by Dirk Strasser (Carbide Tipped Pens)
"Imma Gonna Finish You Off" by Marina J. Lostetter (Galaxy's Edge #6)
"The Cuckoo" by Sean Williams (Clarkesworld #91)
"The Newboy’s Last Stand" by Krystal Claxton (UFO 3)
"Life Flight" by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog, 3/14)
"Recapturing the Dream" by Brad R. Torgersen (Racers of the Night)