Lexifabricographer

April 8, 2014

Conflux Writers Day and Aurealis Awards

Canberra turned on a typically miserable autumn day last Saturday for the gala social event of the Australian speculative fiction writing calendar, the 2013 Aurealis Awards. Ignoring the constant, unrealised threat of rain from an oppressive overhead blanket of grey, the tribe gathered to honour the year’s best and fairest in the fantasy, science fiction and horror realms.

But before all that, the Conflux organising committee, spearheaded by the implacable Nicole Murphy, assembled an army of inspirational speakers to present the Conflux Writers Day. The CWD was a one-day mini-convention aimed squarely at writers, with short, sharp sessions on everything from genre to craft, marketing to research, social media to scriptwriting to editing and… Well, with three parallel presentation streams for most of the day, it was impossible to get to everything I wanted to see. One thing we all had in common were the four plenary sessions that bookended the day.

Jo Anderton was first, talking about how she turns simple ideas into fantastic worlds and uses those to find characters and stories. I’m a huge fan of her stories in “The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories”, so hearing the specific ideas that inspired several of those stories was terrific. Kaaron Warren was up next, giving the assembled masses a much-needed (in my case at least) kick up the arse about writing when there’s no time to write. “You can’t always change the way you live your life,” she noted, “so change the way you write.” To prove her point that writing can be done in the margins of free time, she made the audience do an exercise – from the index page of a collection of legal cases, we were to select one and write something inspired by the name for two minutes. I don’t know if the exercise worked for anyone else there, but from those two minutes I have the core idea for what should be an amusing little short story.

The first of the afternoon speakers was Ian McHugh, talking about the accumulation of rejection letters as a way of keeping score on your short story writing. “Embrace insanity,” as he put it. “[Submitting short stories] is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard Ian and others endorse before, and it certainly helped me to persist with my weird Twitter(-ish) story. I submitted that one 12 times before it finally found a publisher who wanted it.[1] Ian reckons an acceptance rate of about one submission in ten is typical – your mileage may vary – so he recommends having at least ten stories out for consideration at any time. I’ve personally got a fair way to go to build up my stockpile!

The final speaker was Keri Arthur, on the trials and tribulations of being a New York Times best-selling author. Keri’s talk was primarily about contract negotiations with her publishers, which seems were at times fraught with poor communications if not outright intransigence. Wrangling over advances is a problem a lot of authors might like to have, but it certainly didn’t sound like much of a party. The big take-home message from Keri’s talk was to keep writing. Keri’s written something like thirty books in the last fifteen years, which is…pretty disciplined of her, I would say.

In between the plenary sessions I crammed as much writerly goodness as I could: catching up with out-of-town friends, making a couple of new acquaintances and of course sitting in on the lightning-quick presentations. The standard of presentations was very high – I could have spent easily twice as long with each speaker picking their brains. My personal highlights were probably Cat Sparks’ talk on the alternate history genre and Alan Baxter’s amusing admonitions concerning writers’ use and misuse of social media.

And then it was home for a quick change into something a little smarter for the day’s main event, the Aurealis Awards ceremony. The Aurealis is one of two major annual awards in the Australian speculative fiction filed (the other being the Ditmar Awards, which will be presented at Melbourne’s Continuum convention in June). While the Ditmars are voted on by eligible members of the spec fic community (basically anyone with membership at the current or previous year’s national convention), the Aurealis Awards are judged by panels. Extraordinarily hard-working ones, at that – in the space of a couple of months they read dozens of novels and sometimes more than a hundred short stories to put together their short-lists. I get tired even thinking about the workload.

The evening was MC’d by spec fiction luminaries Sean Williams and Simon Brown. Their hilarious riffs on the Aurealis Awards of what appears to be an extremely exciting future were sadly probably not recorded for posterity. Sorry you missed their routine, it was bloody great.

The Fildenstar (aka Kate Rowe and Ryan Morrison), whose weird speculative lyrics are married up to some beautiful Kate Bush-y/Tori Amos-ish soundscapes, provided several musical interludes. I was mildly disappointed that they didn’t stay onstage for the whole ceremony. I wanted to see them play someone offstage for having too long an acceptance speech. Nobody did, though, so I suppose the point is moot.

And the awards ceremony was – well, it was an awards ceremony. Not as self-congratulatory as the Oscars, not as unnecessarily glam as the Golden Globes and not anywhere near as unremitting awful as the Logies. Presenters read out lists of names and synopses of stories, then awkwardly tore open envelopes and announced winners. There were ties in at least three categories that I remember. The winners are all listed here.

In terms of winners, I was very pleased to see Joanne Anderton have a win in the Best Collection category for “The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories”, which I liked. And my pal Kaaron Warren won for a science fiction short story I’d not heard of from a collection I’ve still not laid my hands on, The Lowest Heaven. All of the winners are listed on the Aurealis Awards homepage.

My only mild disappointment was that I didn’t get to collect a trophy for my pal Andrea Höst for her self-published YA novel “Hunting” (which I thought was jolly good). If I recall correctly that was Andrea’s third shortlist nomination for an Aurealis. It’s only a matter of time until she picks up a gong, I feel sure. Interestingly, this year the winner of the Best Fantasy Novel was also for a self-published book, Mitchell Hogan’s “A Crucible of Souls”. He looked pretty pleased and surprised.

All in all it was a lovely day (and that’s not even mentioning the informal Friday night burritos-and-beer meetup). Cat Sparks has posted up a photo gallery of shots from both the Writers Day and the awards ceremony. Check out the cool mural from the Australian National University’s Great Hall in the first few photos. I suggest you linger on those early picture so that your eye doesn’t stray down the page to where it might accidentally see me. You’ve been warned.

 

[1] I’ll post details on that one when I can. I don’t expect it to be for a while yet.

April 3, 2014

The lights come up and

Filed under: administraviata — lexifab @ 3:42 pm

…it sort of looks like the blog is working again. Maybe. The RSS feeds still look a bit wonky, but I think we’re going again.

So I will just take the opportunity to note a few things:

- The Joey is fine and not at all bothered by his missing front teeth. Shrieking hysterics in the pre- and post-op wards did, however, occur as anticipated.

- I will be attending the Conflux Writers Day and the Aurealis Awards this Saturday. If you can’t be there, I will be livetweeting the hell out of both events (follow @_Lexifab, with the official hashtag #writersday).

- I’m rather excited about a short story submission I’m sending off tonight. Editing it was an amazing exercise. I think I may actually have started convincing my subconscious of the value of editing. Of course it helped that I had some terrific critiques on this one, critiques that fixed numerous problems including the title and the ending.

- The sun is beginning to set on my public service career. Details when they’re available.

 

April 2, 2014

Review – The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton – AWWC14

This will be my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. Joanne Anderton’s “The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories” was published by Fablecroft Publishing. The book was launched at the Conflux 2013 convention here in Canberra, which I only mention because I got the author to sign my copy. I’m not particularly a collector of signed books, but I’m very pleased to have this volume in my library.

Beautiful, dark stories of humanity on the fringes of normality or the verge of extinction. Jo Anderton’s characters occupy the most tenuous corners of vivid, imaginative and often terrible worlds, struggling to hold on to their past as calamity approaches (or recedes into dim memory). These are stories about living in the wake of great calamity – fighting to survive, hunting for meaning in dying worlds, coming to the acceptance that things will never return to what they were. But Anderton’s stories are far from fatalistic. Despite the horrors that she visits upon her poor characters, they have cores of steel; beaten down and tormented by their arduous circumstances, they go on regardless. Weary but resolved.

The title story is one of the first pieces of Joanne Anderton’s that I read, and it’s still among my favourites. The story of Zvonimir the chime-maker, who is called upon by an estranged friend to turn the gruesome evidence from a massacre into a magical windchime, is a strange and sad one, a small personal tale in the midst of a much larger story barely hinted at. It’s an intricately textured story that stays with you.

“The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories” is made up almost entirely of stories that would be highlights in any collection: ‘Sanaa’s Army’ recounts a creepy , beautiful encounter between Sanaa, an artist who works in taxidermy-magic, and something that preys on the children who bring her new bones; ‘Mah Song’ is a sweet tale of sibling loyalty in the face of bleak survivalist exploitation; ‘From the Dry Heart to the Sea’ explores the social fragility of the outsider; “Out Hunting for Teeth” and “A Memory Trapped in Light” are about micro-societies developing after disaster, and the horrors that highly constrained communities can inflict on their members.

This is a collection of thirteen amazing stories; all fantastic, many horrific, all imaginative and disturbing. Of all the many short story collections I read in 2013, “The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories” stands out as one of the best.

March 28, 2014

The joys of parenthood

Filed under: family,fitter/happier — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:35 pm

My six year old boy’s sore front teeth turn out to be abscessed and in need of immediate extraction. He needs to go in for day surgery early next week. This will be the second time in six months that he’s been in hospital for surgery under general anaesthetic, so the memories of his last visit will still be fresh.

That’s unfortunate, because none of us have particularly fond memories of that visit. Little guy gets pretty panicky when it comes to needles and anaesthetic. Fair enough too. But it’s also fair to describe his response to situations where blood or injury (or treatment) are involved as ‘jaw-droppingly unhappy’. It’s a fairly stressful situation all round.

On top of that, provided everything goes as it should, he’ll be missing both of his front teeth for the better part of a year – it could be that long before his new ones grow through. I don’t expect it to be too traumatic for him – he’s in Year 1, where half the kids are missing a tooth or two, so it’s not as if he’ll be alone  – but it’s one more thing for him to potentially become anxious about.

His parents are already anxious, of course. We’re trying hard not to show it but I guarantee I won’t complain if this is the last time I have to pay an anaesthetist’s bill this year. Ouch.

March 24, 2014

Quick test

Filed under: administraviata — lexifab @ 7:21 am

If this shows up in your RSS feed, can you throw a comment down? I think I may have vanished in some obscure way.

Thanks.

March 17, 2014

Review – Champion of the Rose by Andrea K Höst – AWWC14

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. The novel this week is Andrea Höst’s Champion of the Rose, a political-mystery-romance set in a high fantasy realm with great mages, ancient magical constructs and some very daunting Fae. Like all of Höst’s novels, it is self-published (with a very beautiful Julie Dillon cover).

You almost feel sorry for Soren Armitage, the mystically chosen personal Champion of the monarch of a kingdom that has been a Regency for a couple of hundred years. Not being naturally inclined to the court, she’s happy enough with the complete lack of prestige or responsibility that comes with a position that nobody takes seriously. Which is when, of course, a magical rose blooms to let everyone know that the King has unexpectedly returned.

The shape of Champion of the Rose is a little hard to pin down. The first third or so is a hunt for a King whom nobody’s seen and who shouldn’t exist. Then the focus shifts to Soren’s navigation of courtly politics flavoured with espionage, betrayal and attempted assassin, all while she attempts to unravel ancient magical secrets and negotiate impossible personal relationships. Finally the last bit is more of the previous, only with the stakes turned up to eleven by the unanticipated presence of a Fae embassy.

Soren Armitage is one of those reluctant heroines who goes from comfortable to out-of-her-depth in a matter of a few paragraphs. With no great martial or magical skills, she holds her own only with a slightly disoriented pragmatism and a tenacity reinforced by a series of confounding magical revelations. While she is far more resourceful and brave than she’s given credit for, I found myself far more interested in several of the supporting cast. In particular Aristide Couerveur, the son of the Regent (and a character with as Höstian a name as the author has ever conjured) is fun. He is the tremendously powerful mage whose ascent to the Regency is arrested by the King’s return – the author successfully teases his inscrutable motives for quite some time before he shows his true colours. Despite the dour self-control that dominates his personality, I found Aristide one of the highlights of the story.

Champion of the Rose is an engaging fantasy political thriller (in part), a tormented romance (in some ways) and a complicated magical murder mystery where the dead bodies are in all the wrong places. I found it an enjoyable read with a satisfying resolution. I would just caution readers that the geopolitical history of the setting set out early in the novel is pretty important. Maybe don’t skim over those bits quite as casually as I did, or you’ll find yourself having to check back when it all comes together in the later chapters.

 

March 14, 2014

Review – The Gate Theory by Kaaron Warren – AWWC14

This is my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.

I get the idea, reading the five stories in Kaaron Warren’s 2013 collection The Gate Theory, that Kaaron might not quite see the world the way other people do. In these stories in particular, she seems drawn to broken characters who don’t seem to know how – or perhaps whether – to fit in.

The stories often seem to be about one thing before wandering off in an unexpected direction like an easily distracted burglar going through linen closets instead of a safe. And stories that feel safe if a little strange at the outset take weird and usually unpleasant turns, leading away from examinations of the lives (or post-lives) of characters somewhere near the fringes of society and pushing into genuine darkness. Outright gore is not often more than hinted at, but the horror is always there, coming into sharp focus as the characters stray out beyond their depths.

In ‘Purity’, Therese lives in squalor with her mother and brother, neglected physically and emotionally, which leads her into the embrace of a group with some very unusual habits.  ‘That Girl’ a Fijian ghost story, turns an unblinkingly critical eye from its white Australian cultural tourist protagonist to sinister undercurrents in the Fijian social order. ‘Dead Sea Fruit’ is a supremely creepy story that begins with the dental hygiene and shared mythologies of girls with eating disorders and gets more horrifying from there.

‘The History Thief’ is the only story in the collection whose supernatural element is evident from the beginning: protagonist Alvin death leads him to the discovery that he has not, as he thought, lived a particularly worthwhile life. He discovers he has the power to connect with people and make a meaningful difference, but dealing with people means dealing with their very nasty secrets. Finally ‘The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall’ returns to Fiji for a cryptozoological expedition that gets out of hand.

These are five extraordinary stories, though I will confess I didn’t particularly care for ‘Purity’. Warren’s prose is beautiful, imbuing the ordinary with grandeur and horror in equal parts. Her flawed characters never quite register the moments that seal their fates, and Warren is content to quietly watch them amble off into horror and doom.

Somehow I can even see her holding the door open for them.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Filed under: women writers challenge 2014 — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 11:05 pm

I’m signing on again this year for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which I undertake to read at least 10 books by Australian women and review at least six (the “Franklin” level). I’ve previously done the challenge in 2012 and 2013 and I’m glad I did – I’ve discovered several new authors whose work I’ve enjoyed as a result. To be honest I might have actually failed in the challenge last year. I know I did the reading but I think the wheels may have fallen off in terms of completed reviews. Writing my own novel got in the way a bit, among other things.

Where do I get one of those hats?

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

I’m well on my way in terms of the reading – I think I’m already up to four books done (I need to check and update Goodreads to be sure…). As I do the reviews, I’ll post them here as well as at Goodreads, Amazon and Smashwords if appropriate.

I am going to try to make an effort to include non-fiction in the reading this year. We’ll see how long that resolution lasts. Right at the moment it’s sincere.

Snippets

Filed under: administraviata,fitter/happier — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 10:44 pm
  1. Still no news from work. I’m really quite ready to have a bit more clarity now, thanks.
  2. I’ve been a bit sick this week, probably not unrelated to the previous point.
  3. Since last Lexifab entry I have completed a first draft of a short story for Unfettered, a forthcoming anthology. The first polish needs to remove three hundred words to get it down to the maximum story length, which is going to be painful.
  4. I’ve also received a draft contract for my first pro sale, which hasn’t quite gone through now, and actally may no longer technically be considered a pro sale, at least not for purposes of recognition from SFWA (which as far as I know is the closest thing to an international professional speculative fiction writing association). For my personal purposes, of course it’s a pro sale.
  5. (No, I am not angling for SFWA membership any time in the foreseeable future. Irrespective of its current regeneration crisis, I can’t see that it offers all that much to Australian writers at the moment. But their membership qualifications of three short story sales at pro rates or a book deal make a decent target to aim for nevertheless).
  6. I’ve begun outlining a science fiction adventure trilogy. No part of that sentence aligns with anything I recognise or acknowledge about myself as an writer, and yet it’s true.
  7. I am also writing a story about a serial murderer of house pets, which is on slightly less treacherous literary grounds for me. (That’s not the Unfettered one)
  8. I am feeling a bit guilty – presumably having done myself some tremendous psychological damage in the past, since firmnly repressed – at the lack of reviews I’ve done lately, so I will be throwing myself into that over the next little while. I can’t remember whether I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 yet, but I might as well kick that off tonight.

February 24, 2014

In-betweening

Filed under: news of the day,Uncategorized,wordsmithery,workin for the man — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:22 pm

I’ve been a little quiet lately because things have changed at work. Instead of my previous employment as full-time layabout with literally no responsibilities, I have moved to a new office and team and have started what is effectively a new job (though with nominally the same old tasks). It would be fair to say that the adjustment process is ongoing, not least because I am still waiting on financial advice as to whether I can afford to quit and do something else with my life. I am anxious for a change and ready to move on, but at the same time I’m conscious that if I can’t make the numbers work, I need to stay where I am. The Canberra job market is becoming actively hostile to the archetype of “the Commonwealth public servant found excess to requirements”.

We just bought a new-to-us car: a 2009 Nissan Maxima. Ordinarily that might be a cause for celebration but in this case the imminent self-destruction of our old car forced our hand at a moment when we could have done without a big expense. Which is, I know, the story of everyone’s life. Still, it would be easier to make big, important life decisions without being feeling like our finances are holding a gun to our heads. Well, never mind, moving on.

I’m on the final stretch of my revision of the Sawl novel. I’ve given myself until the end of the month to get to The End, though in practise I might also give myself until the end of the weekend as well. At that point it still own’t be done, nor even close to it. I have structural problems all over the place (too many exposition scenes, too much slow introspection, not enough setup for action scenes, too much information withheld until the last third of the book, and at least one major character who dies in entirely the wrong place in the narrative, to name most of the big issues). Once I’m finished the draft I will put it away again for a month or so, to work on a couple of short stories and to flesh out an outline for the next longer project. then – I promise myself – it’ll be back to Nyssa and Rachel for a manuscript cleanup, for however long *that* takes.

I won’t say this book is taking forever but I will say that I look forward to refining my process.

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