Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

May 28, 2013

More shilling! Next at Smashwords

A very quick one: the CSfG Next anthology is now available for purchase from Smashwords for the utterly reasonable $4.99 US.

Obviously I recommend it, but then I would, wouldn’t I? I like to think of it this way – for five bucks you get a completely readable, diligently proofread story by me, along with more than twenty separate opportunities to scrub that story from your brain.

What’s not to like?

May 21, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Hunting by Andrea K. Höst

This is my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. I thought I was doing a little better than that, but then I remembered that I’ve been reading short stories almost exclusively for the last couple of months. So I’ve got a little bit of catching up to do.

Hunting is a standalone young adult fantasy novel by Andrea K. Höst [1]. Ash Lenthard is the street-smart young heroine  who has disguised herself as a (slightly younger) boy and apprenticed herself to a herbalist in order to escape from an unfortunate previous life. When her guardian is murdered, she finds her desire to return to life on the streets thwarted when she is warded to the Investigator appointed by the king to look into the serial killing of herbalists. With no choice but to maintain her identity as a young boy, Ash finds herself cornered into becoming a seruilis (squire) to the foreign noble and a key part of his murder investigation.

A summary of the first couple of chapters makes Hunting sound like a bit of a fantasy version of a grim investigative procedural, and to an extent it is. The more that Ash and the nobleman, Thornaster, poke around, the more vicious and bleak the conspiracy they uncover becomes. Beneath the witty banter, romantic interplay and the flirtation with cross-dressing farce, the world of Hunting has a more nihilistic streak than most of Host’s work. But she does an excellent job of keeping the action moving so that the story never threatens to wallow in its own darkness.

The author has mentioned that Hunting was written at least partly in response to her frustration with the heroines of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, who despite their deep reserves of pluck and spirit often fall just short of being proactive. Some guy always comes along to make all their decisions for them.  Ash is every bit as strong-willed as any Heyer heroine, but she’s only likely to go along with a would-be white knight if it happens to suit her purposes. She’s a fun character, even if she herself is not often having much fun.

I have to confess that I didn’t fully understand the magical elements of the story, which are integral to the plot’s resolution, but it certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying them. Apart from that, it’s an adventurous romp with plenty of derring-do, peril and romance, flavoured with the odd splashes of darkness to settle the froth.

 

[1] I have previously reviewed her novels And All the Stars,  Stained Glass Monsters and The Silence of Medair.

The viscous middle and the lure of the shiny

Filed under: fitter/happier,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:55 pm

I’ve been not-blogging for some time now while I wrestle with my novel manuscript. It’s a hard slog that is chewing up a lot of brain power and time, neither of which I’m finding available in abundance.

I am now well and truly into the trench warfare stage of the writing process, mired down in an intractable internal debate about where I want the story to go and how I’m going to get there. Every time I feel like I’ve taken a step forward, with a fun scene or a halfway-ingenious plot twist [1], I get bogged down. How do I make the characters’ decisions seem convincing? How can I make some plot-essential development compelling? How do I write my way out of the corners I am stuck in? How do I live with knowing that a good third of what I’ve written so far definitely has to get chopped out?

The other night I had hit a wall so badly that I figuratively reworked Raymond Chandler’s famous writing advice: (paraphrasing) “If you don’t know what happens next, have two guys with guns come through the door”. The scene I wrote in accordance with that principle dropped a side character into a pivotal scene so that I could explore the scene from the outside. It was a lot of fun to write, and helped unblock a few gunked-up plot pipes, but it probably won’t survive to the final manuscript.

I’m discovering that my writing method appears to be to over-write in the hopes that future edits can pare everything back by about 25%. That feels like an impractical waste of time, but this far into the project I am not sure I can change my work methods. something for the post-draft review, perhaps.

The other thing I am discovering, which comes as no particular surprise, is that I am desperate to write some short stories instead of perservering with the novel. There’s not surprise there – short stories (at least the ones I write) tend to depend on fewer ideas, they’re less complex by virtue of having fewer moving parts (characters, locations, scenes etc) and they take less time to draft. They’re easier, is what I’m saying. I know from experience that I can finish a short, whereas with a novel-length work that confidence is at best theoretical [2].

There’s also the sense that with short stories, I can feel like I am making tangible progress toward my goals as a writer by finishing and submitting a few for publication.[3] In my ideal world, I would have at least three, if not five, short stories out for submission at any given time, and others in preparation in the event that one of them was accepted somewhere. While I think it’s just as important to me to develop my ability to craft a novel, it’s a much slower and more frustrating process than the comparitively immediate gratification of placing a short story (which includes posting it up here and getting feedback from someone who read it all the way to the end…).

Yes, this is petulant whining. I know that. “But it’s haaaaaard!” is something my five year old says (a lot). Sorry for boring you lot with it but I do find posts like this a necessary evil. Calling myself on my lazy, work-avoiding bullshit is part of my process for getting stuff done. Feel free to ignore these posts and hopefully sooner or later I will get back to boring you with my opinions about Lost.

I’ve made finishing the novel a goal for this year and I have a deadline to work to (my critiquing circle is expecting a finished draft at the start of July). I will perservere. I will march on through the harsh weather of fatigued self-confidence, undermotivated characters and unintelligible plot convolutions. I will deliver a manuscript that has THE END typed on the last page, even if I know it is imperfect. I will get there.

It’s just that, right at the moment, it would be a hell of a lot easier to be doing almost anything else.

[1] For certain values of “ingenious” which are probably not shared in th common vernacular.

[2] I don’t count Bard Wars, my 2003 NaNoWriMo piece, in part because it was written in very different and now-impossible circumstances and in part because I never did go back and do the hard work of knocking it into a reasonable shape, which is what I am doing with this work.

[3] Clam, I am still pulling together a response to your anti-professionalism essay. I’ll get there soon.

May 14, 2013

Next anthology available

Filed under: books of 2013,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:47 am

Proud as I am to be a part of the Next anthology, I don’t want to belabour it too much. On the other hand I want everyone I know to buy it, and now they can: the hardcopy is now available for sale at the CSfG website.

It is well worth looking at the other publications on offer and perhaps picking one of those up at half price along with Next.  I can particularly recommend the ones I have read, which are Winds of Change, The CSFG Gastronomicon or (if your tastes run to the upsetting and/or the gruesome) Kaaron Warren’s collection The Grinding House.

No word yet on the release of the ebook version of Next. I will update this post when it goes on sale.

May 6, 2013

Conflux Roundup – The Next Launch

Conflux is beginning to recede further into the dust-swept depths of my notoriously terrible memory. But one thing that will stay with me for life was Friday night’s launch of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild’s 2013 anthology, Next.

Shauna O'Meara's cover has a robot dog and a monkey in a topper. All criticism is invalid.

Check it out!

Every year the CSfG puts together a themed anthology intended to showcase the strength of the Australian (and in particular Canberran) speculative fiction scene. It also gives a few lucky individuals a rare opportunity to put themselves through the grinding ordeal of editing a themed short fiction anthology. We honour our fearless editors for their noble if inexplicable sacrifices.

Obviously I would like to add a personal note of thanks in particular to the editors of this specific volume, Simon Petrie and Rob Porteous, who demonstrated laudable (if again inexplicable) judgment in including my story ‘Imported Goods – Aisle Nine’ in the anthology. As it was my first ever short story sale, I was doubly excited to be able to attend the launch in person.

I think I may now have formed unreasonable expectations about the glamour and excitement of a standard book launch, because this was a doozy. The epic scale of the launch party might just have taken the venue slightly by surprise, because there was a bit of a crush going. I guesstimated the crowd to be somewhere between 150 and 200 people, crammed into a reception area next to the Rydges hotel lobby. Perhaps that not surprising – with 30 contributing authors (of whom about 20 were present) there’s plenty of scope to swell the usual crowds with friends and family. I certainly had a decent entourage there wishing me well [1].

Noted steampunk author and enthusiast Richard Harland MC’ed the affair, looking dapper in his fine, sensible hat. He reflected on the fine tradition, now over a decade old if I am not mistaken, of CSfG anthologies. They do seem to have become rather an institution, and more to the point have been a launching point for a number of emerging writers. This year, for example there were six authors whose first sales were in Next (myself included)

In related news, my phone's camera has baffling night-time settings which I have clearly yet to master

This man’s hat reflects the gravity of the occasion

Then it was time for the editors, who embraced not only the love of the Australian spec-fic scene but also the con’s steampunk theme. I don’t know that my photography does justice to the magnificent insanity of their costumes:

Yes, I believe that is a propellor on his head. Why do you ask?

Simon is resplendent with decadent savoir-faire.

The robot parrot is watching you

Rob’s militaristic colonial attire is let down only by a complete lack of peripheral vision.

Simon, who has quite a few editing credits up his sleeve, gave an eloquent speech praising the contributors and everyone that worked on the volume. Rob accepted the heavy burden of discharging tawdry promotional duties, and gave one of the finest works of crass hucksterism this side of a wild west snake oil salesman. At this point, you might begin to have some idea of why I was so excited to be part of this particular anthology. Yes, it’s because the editors are both bonkers. But charming and brilliant with it, so we forgive them their mild eccentricities…

Rik Lagarto and Leife Shallcross bravely gave readings from their respective stories (better them than me). They were great! I think it’s likely that between the two of them sales were subsequently driven through the roof.  And finally Janeen Webb, who has sold the odd story or so over the years, and has another in Next, launched the book with a virtual bottle of bubbly across its hypothetical prow.

There followed a frenzy of buying and author signing. There were so many authors present that the three tables set aside for signing were not enough to seat us all. There were a few of us standing at the back, passing books back and forth all over the place. The chaos settled into a rhythm pretty quickly though. Since I have nothing to compare the experience to [2] I will just note that I could get used to the whole fame and adulation thing. Especially if it is followed by drinks and revelry, as happened on this occasion.

I would put in a link for anyone who might have been overcome with intrigue and want to read the book, but I don’t think the virtual shop has been updated yet. I’ll attach a link to that when it goes live so if you somehow survived the disaster of not being able to attend the launch in person, you can still belatedly obtain your own personal memento of the occasion.[3]

I’ll even sign it for you if you like. No, really, it’d be no trouble at all…

 

[1] Hi guys, thanks for coming! I hope the booze was to your satisfaction. (Fi, Jaks, Evan, Simon, Sarah, Gavin, Emma. I love youse all).

[2] Well, the standing in one place for an hour or so part was quite familiar, but the rest of it was dazzling and new.

[3] And I believe the ebook version will also be released in the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

May 5, 2013

Conflux Roundup – A swirl of vague impressions

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:03 am

A week on from the end of Conflux, I still don’t have it all straight in my head. It was an overwhelming experience. On the one hand, that’s ridiculous – it was a gathering of about two or three hundred people, confined to a single building across about six rooms and a couple of eating areas, which is not exactly the World Economic Forum in Davos.

On the other hand, I wanted to do everything, be everywhere and talk to everyone. The sheer impossibility of those mathematics, the number of hard choices and the opportunities regrettably foresworn all did my head in. I do have a few regrets – mostly around people I was a bit too shy and starstruck to introduce myself to, even though intellectually I know it would have been fine and not the rude intrusion that it seemed like in my head – but overall I had an amazing time.

Conflux has a well-earned reputation for being a writers’ con. Nearly all the panels are geared towards the art, craft, business and/or love of writing speculative fiction and editors, agents and publishers have a strong presence alongside the creative types. There was a great sense of energy and of a vibrant, welcoming community that wanted nothing more than to sit down and talk about writing. I had a wonderful time with it.

Discussion panels made up most of the program – I would have attended a dozen or so over the course of the weekend. There were three in particular that I loved: the Horror one late on the first night, moderated by Kirstyn McDermott and featuring a cast of horror fiction luminaries, in which sparkle vampires were roundly denounced and the film versions of The Mist and The Road were compared and contrasted to great effect. Then there was the so-called smackdown between small-press and mainstream publishers, in which Russell Farr of Ticonderoga, Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot and agent Alex Adsett were all largely in furious agreement that the Big Six (or Five, now) publishing houses are on the brink of apocalypse (it was more interesting and erudite than I make it sound, of course). And finally there was the panel exploring the Essence of Steampunk, which concluded that steampunk is largely comprised of everything that seems like it might be steampunk – but it got there by a fun and somewhat digressive route.

One of the great parts of the con for me was the number of people who had opportunities to pitch novels to publishers and agents. As is no doubt often the case with these things, heaps of people had manuscripts to flog and the program allocated five-minute slots with industry professionals. On top of that, the program included workshops on preparing pitches and dealing with agents and publishers. All good stuff for those in a position to take advantage of it. (My manuscript is nowhere near that state).

The international guests of honour were terrific. Marc Gascoigne, managing director of Angry Robot Press, was the main drawcard for me (not that I needed one, you understand, I was going anyway). Angry Robot one of the hottest and most interesting international spec fiction publishers on the planet right now. But more important to me, Gascoigne was an early writer on Shadowrun game books and tie-in novels way back in the late eighties. I would like to have had the chance to chat with him about that. Alas, the opportunity didn’t come up (or at least if it did I missed it). And I didn’t know anything at all about the other intentional GoH, Nalo Hopkinson, a Caribbean-born American writer. But after seeing her interviewed by Justine Larbalestier, I want to read more from both of them. They were such fun, engaging speakers. Hopkinson came to her writing career comparitively late in life, which I found encouraging. I’m definitely including their stuff in my next Amazon and/or library trawl.

(Oh dear, this is starting to get longer than I intended, and I still didn’t mention the Masquerade or the Regency ball or the Steampunk-themed high tea. That’s because I didn’t actually go to any of them, but I was rather pleased that things like that were there for people who like that sort of thing.)

If I hadn’t been at least a vaguely responsible parent, I’d probably have done what most of the interstate con attendees did, which was to stay up all night nattering in bars and getting roaring drunk in room parties. I suspect that’s where all the most interesting conversations were taking place.

Not being an experienced con-goer I wouldn’t know. Tell you what though, if all Australian speculation fiction cons are as wonderful, as informative and as much fun as Conflux 9, then I have every intention of making a habit of this con-going thing.

May 2, 2013

Conflux Roundup – Bookswag

“Come for the chat, leave with an excessive stack of new reading materials,” said absolutely nobody at Conflux 9 over the weekend. But they should have, because dammit there were a lot of book launches happening. I think I was present for at least four, and I’m pretty sure there were a couple that I missed as well. And on top of that, abundant intriguing material was available in the dealer’s room and at a special one-day marketplace. *SO MUCH STUFF*!

Of course love of books – reading them, touching them, completely failing to control the impulse to own them – seems to be what gets most people into writing in the first place. (At least, I don’t think the converse is more common: “Wow, this whole thing where you make meaningful shapes with a crayon is *so cool*. I wonder if anyone else has ever made protracted sequences of meaningful shapes, preferably in third-person past tense?”)

So here’s what I ended up with:

Loot!

A tiny fraction of what I wanted to buy

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day – Livia Day is the not-particularly-secret crime writing pen-name of Tansy Rayner Roberts. I’ve been waiting to see what Twelve Planets Press would put out under a crime imprint for a while. This seems like it will be a fun romp with cakes and capers and bloodthirsty Hobart-based killings. I will, of course, report back once I’ve finished it.

Siren Beat by Tansy Rayner Roberts/Roadkill by Robert Shearman – Back to back novellas by the aforementioned Tansy and Robert Shearman, who wrote (amongst other things) ‘Dalek’, one of the best episodes from Chris Ecclestone season of Doctor Who. I know absolutely nothing whatsoever about either story, but Twelve Planets head honcho Alisa Krasnostein pointed out that it was cheap with any other purchase SO THERE YOU GO. (Also I have a collection of Shearman’s short stories in the to-be-read folder on my Kindle, so what’s one more story for the stack? Even if it doesn’t have *any* Daleks in it, I might very well still like it).

One Small Step is a short story anthology edited by Tehani Wessely of Fablecroft Press (great name!) Funny story: the theme for One Small Step is along the line of ‘journeys of discovery’, a theme that (arguably) fits my short story Imported Goods – Aisle Nine’. I almost submitted that story to this anthology instead of Next. As it turns out One Small Step became an all-women volume, so I’m glad I changed my mind. But it looked like an enticing project then and I’m keen to see what it’s turned into.

Next – is an anthology or something. I will probably blog about it soon.

Leviathan – My buddy Evan attended the Clarion South intensive writing workshop some years ago and he often mentions Scott Westerfeld as one of the tutors who made the biggest impression on him (along with Mrgo Lanagan, Sean Williams, etc etc bastard). As steampunk was one of the big themes of Conflux, and an area in which I am deeply unschooled, I finally gave into temptation to pick up the first volume in his alternate WWI YA steampunk series. Didn’t get a chance to get him to sign it though, which in retrospect is a bit of a pity. Did enjoy hearing Evan recount the story of how Westerfeld has decided not to continue beyond the third book in the series because his decision to fund the luscious illustrations by Keith Thompson proved to be prohibitively expensive. A shame, because from the first paragraph alone – which mentions Australian cavalry, diesel-powerted walking machines and armoured zeppelins – I *know* I am going to enoy this book.

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton was launched at the con along with One Small Step and the Thoraiya Dyer volume of the Twelve Planets Series, entitled Asymmetry. (I didn’t pick that one up, since I already have the ebook and read it with great relish on my holidays. Review coming soon). The titular ‘The Bone Chime Song’ was among my favourite stories from 2012 (and probably the best entry in the excellent Light Touch Paper Stand Clear anthology, which I reviewed here). It was deservedly up for a Ditmar Award for Best Short Story, although as it turned out it lost to one of Thoraiya Dyer’s, ‘The Wisdom of Ants’. I listened to it read on a podcast a couple of weeks ag. It’s pretty good too.

This is all getting a bit tangled and interwoven, isn’t it? Anyway, those were just the books I picked up. There were others launched and/or available at the con which I would love to have added to that stack, if finances constraints and the threat of spinal damage had not prevailed upon me to see sense. These are a few of them:

In Fabula-Divino – This was an anthology project that Nicole Murphy put together, at the same time that she was being one of the co-chairs of Conflux 9! The goal was to foster new writers, working with one a month for a year to get their first work into print. The project was unfortunately interrupted during the year, but happily various other members of the spec fic community stepped in to help Nicole flesh the book out and get it into print. I already had my e-copy for supporting the project through crowdfunding, but I am still tempted to get a physical copy for the pretty cover…

Dark Rite – A supernatural thriller by Alan Baxter and his podcasting and writing partner David Wood. I meant to get this and just completely forgot at the end of the weekend, when energy levels were low and I was slightly overcaffeinated.

 Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead by Robert Hood – Don’t know much about it, but (a) I’ve read a couple of Hood’s stories recently and they are suitably creepy and action-packed, and (b) I like the Lovecraftian monster on the cover. This was another book that was launched at the con. I missed the launch and they were all gone by the time I arrived – but screw it, I just checked and it’s available on Amazon, so I’ve bought and downloaded it since I started typing this sentence.

(Did I mention that one of the panels I was on was about instant gratification through digital books?)

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