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

June 20, 2013

Writing Watch – Short story markets

Okay, before I start, I *am* still working on my novel. But I’m at the horrible late-middle stage where nothing is working properly and I can’t see a clear path (yet) to the ending. It’s doing my head in and all I can think as I work on it is: This story is not coming out how I imagined it in my head. Nothing I’m doing is working. I’ve wasted two years on this steaming heap of garbage and it’s still not readable. I hate writing!

Yes, it gets that bad at times. My brain is a stupid, self-defeating thing. It’s slightly heartening to know that other, more successful writers have similar problems – read this excellent depressing essay by the rather-good Libba Bray about her current work in progress – but that doesn’t help me out of my quagmire.

So I am regrouping and trying some new writing tactics. One of these is to work on a short story at the same time, so that rather than allow myself to stall because I am frustrated with the novel, I can switch modes quickly and still feel like I’m making some progress. Later (in the same writing session or the next) I can come back to the novel with fresh eyes and a calmer attitude. maybe. I dunno. It’s an experiment.

Anyhow, I’m taking the opportunity to list a few short story opportunities for Australian writers that are open at the moment. There are many more, of course, these are just some that have an appeal to me at the moment. Since I appear to have an invisible readership – HELLO IMAGINARY FRIENDS LEAVE A COMMENT – I figure they might also be of broader interest. If not, well at least I have the links handy.

Gold Coast Anthology – Canberra editor Elizabeth Fitzgerald and honourary Canberran Helen Stubbs are editing an anthology of short stories about the Gold Coast, available to authors who live at or have ever visited the Gold Coast. They have a large collection of photographs both modern and historical from the region. Every submission must be based on (at least) one of the photos. Any genre, up to 5000 words, submissions close 31 August.

Kisses by Clockwork – Ticonderoga Publications, who are one of the premier Australian spec fiction small publishers (in admittedly not that large a field) are doing a collection of romantic steampunk stories. Ticonderoga’s anthologies are rather intriguing – last year’s One Thousand and One Nights-styled Dreaming of Djinn is on my to-read pile – and of quite a high standard. Specific genre, 2000 to 7500 words, submissions by 15 October.

This is the one I’m working on now, writing the story while at the same time attempting to overcome my limited familiarity with the genre by poring through, I kid you not, The Mammoth Book of SteamPunk (which is proving itself to be quite an entertaining anthology in its own right).

Finally, Dimension6 will be an in-house journal of novella-length science fiction from Australian publisher Couer de Lion. Publisher Keith Stevenson is pretty open about D6 being a promotional tool for CDL’s other products, but I’ve read Anywhere but Earth and most of the stories from X6 – a novellanthology and on the basis of those I’d be happy to recommend their works. They aren’t reading submissions until January 2014 so there’s plenty of time to get something to them. Unusually D6 will have a minimum word length – 4500 words – because as Keith says “we believe a real story needs at least that much space to thrive”. And why not?

June 18, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – River of Bones by Jodi Cleghorn

This is a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. It’s my sixth for the year, which means that I am probably on the verge of hitting my goal of 10 books read and six reviewed. But I’m going to keep reviewing anyway.

I understand Jodi Cleghorn’s River of Bones was originally written as a novella named Elyora. I like the evocative sound of Elyora, the name of the haunted country town in which the story is set, better than the generic spooky title the story has ended up with, but that’s my last major complaint. And anyway it’s not as if River of Bones is misleading in any way.

River of Bones is the story of a band falling apart on the verge of breaking in. At least, that’s what’s happening when their tour van breaks down in a sleepy Australian country town that appears to be literally stuck in the past. As they become acquainted with a handful of locals, some of them friendlier than others, they begin to realise that Elyora is a very nasty place to get lost in.

The setup to this novel is indistinguishable from any number of gore-filled slasher flicks, in which pretty young people encounter outback/backwoods/hillbilly chainsaw/cultist/cannibal crazies and are grotesquely murdered. Cleghorn does something more interesting with the trope, though, overlaying her bloodbath with gothic imagery, restless ghosts, secret government experiments, Australian xenophobia and a passionate if disturbing romance. With so many ingredients, River could have been a cluttered mess, but Cleghorn pulls it off (although I admit I needed a second readthrough to figure out how the government experiment part fitted in).

Cleghorn has a great eye for the small details that bring her 1970’s-era Elyora to life. River is as gloomy and atmospheric as you’d hope in a gothic novel, the character dialogue is sharp and the horror scenes are memorably gruesome. There were plenty of effective horror moments, though as a parent I think the worst was one character’s alarming indifference to child safety. Overall River of Bones is what I look for in horror – inventive, emotional and gruesome.

June 14, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Fire & Ice by Patty Jansen

Filed under: books of 2013,books read,women writers challenge 2013 — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 6:43 pm

This is not so much a review as a response to Patty Jansen‘s Fire & Ice: Icefire Trilogy #1 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. This is my fifth review for 2013. At the time of writing, this novel is available as a free ebook from SmashwordsAmazon  and Kobo. (Edit: Oops, correction, not free at Kobo). As the name implies, it’s the first volume in a trilogy.

The first part of what promises to be an exciting epic fantasy, most of the elements of Fire & Ice work very well – fascinating magic with some truly weird qualities, an arctic (or at least very cold) setting, political intrigue, fantastic beasts (mainly giant riding eagles, bears under harness and sea lions) and protagonists with a variety of relatable agendas.

Mostly Fire & Ice worked for me, but I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I might for a couple of reasons. While most of the women in the story – in particular the long-suffering midwife and the adolescent queen – were intriguing and appealing, the men were almost all either terrible, stupid or desperately broken. I’ll deal with my problems with the guys below the cut, as there are some spoilers involved. (Also: trigger warning for discussion of rape).

Aside from the elements that put me off, this is a good story – a political potboiler in the process of colliding headlong with a magical apocalypse, told through the eyes of a (somewhat ill-prepared) revolutionary, a captive queen and a couple of naive young Knights with dark secrets. The pieces crash together in exciting ways, and the situation escalates nicely toward an explosive climax. That said, nothing is resolved by the end – it’s undoubtedly the first part of a series, though in itself that’s by no means a complaint.

But I had a few problems with Fire & Ice that dragged it down for me. I enjoyed the prose and characterisation, so I’ll definitely be looking out for more of Jansen’s work, but I’m not sure I’ll necessarily go back to this particular series.

(Some character spoilers below. Also: major trigger warning)

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June 13, 2013

Down with day jobs

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:06 pm

(This is a very, very long post which will be of interest to at most two or three people. You have been warned.)

A while ago, my learned associate and bosum chum Doctor Clam held forth on the subject of what he termed the professional artistic class, and how its existence constitutes a potential source of societal harm rather than being the unequivocal good one might presume of its artistic sector. You’ll need to read that essay before this one makes any sense. Go do that, and then come back here if you want to hear what I have to say.

And what I say is “bollocks”, is what I say.

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June 11, 2013

RIP Iain M Banks

Filed under: news of the day — Tags: — lexifab @ 11:50 am

“Sorrow be damned and all your plans.   Fuck the faithful, fuck the committed, the dedicated, the true believers; fuck all the sure and certain people prepared to maim and kill whoever got in their way;  fuck every cause that ended in murder and a child crying.”  –  Iain Banks, Against a Dark Background

Damn, but I will miss Iain Banks’ writing. Yeah, this is the quote that everyone’s using to eulogise him. That’s because it’s a really good fucking quote. So there.

June 10, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

This is a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. It’s apparently only my fourth review, which is a bit slack, since I know I’ve read more than four books that meet the criteria. But nearly all of my writing time lately has gone into novel writing, so I’ve allowed a bit of a backlog to emerge. I’m going to try to deal with that by writing a few – gasp – shorter reviews. That’s the plan, anyway.

By now it should be obvious to anyone who reads my reviews that I have complete faith in the Twelve Planets Series from Twelfth Planet Press. This volume – Asymmetry – presents four new stories from Thoraiya Dyer, whose short story ‘The Wisdom of Ants’ (first published by Clarkesworld Magazine) was the winner for Best Short Story at the 2013 Ditmar Awards for Australian science fiction and fantasy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the stories in this collection in the running next year.

Asymmetry is excellent. If there’s a unifying theme, I’m not up to the job of identifying it, though Nancy Kress takes a good stab at it in her introduction. Then again, I’m quite content with no theme at all, if the stories are this good. I’m going to do my best not to spoil any of them.

‘After Hours’ is the story of a veterinarian assigned to treat security dogs on a military airbase. She struggles to cope with the military mindset of her patients’ handlers, only to discover that their belligerent, obstructive attitudes have an uncanny explanation. ‘Zadie, Scythe of the West’ is a military fantasy about a character trying to escape the rigid expectations of her family, society and religion – and the costs of taking shortcuts. In ‘Wish Me Luck’, a man begs and borrows luck from sympathetic passers-by so that he can be reunited with his lost love. (It may not sound like hard science fiction, but it is). Finally, in ‘Seven Days in Paris’ a woman is subjected to what seems like a pointless and grotesque social experiment, but her impatient handlers have a desperate purpose.

‘After Hours’ is probably my favourite story ever of its kind, though I won’t say what kind that is (even if the back cover blurb does kind of give it away). However all four stories are excellent (and the sample chapters from Dyer’s novella ‘The Company Articles of Edward Teach’ are an intriguing bonus).

Like the rest of the Twelve Planets books, Asymmetry does a fantastic job of showcasing the talents of a remarkable Australian speculative fiction writer. I am comfortable adding Thoraiya Dyer’s name to my list of must-read authors on the basis of this collection.

Review – Shotguns v. Cthulhu (Edited by Robin D Laws)

An excellent anthology of stories injecting thrilling action into H.P. Lovecraft’s often rather staid cosmic horror cycle (though the editor, Robin D Laws, takes care to point out that there was a fair amount of potboiling action in the source stories themselves). With one clunking and risible exception that sounds a lot like after-play report from a particularly overwrought convention scenario, by a writer who has been around more than long enough to know better, these are all fine stories. The writers tend to keep the focus down at the individual level, showing how remarkable characters survive (or don’t) their brushes with the unnatural and various apocalyptic horrors.

A few of the best are Kyla Ward’s “Who Looks Back?” in which adventure-seeking tourists run into something nasty on a New Zealand volcano; “Old Wave” by Rob Heinsoo, about the cultural cost of encountering the Mythos in the Pacific; and Kenneth Hite’s erudite and clever archaeological case study “Infernal Devices”. Most of the rest of the collection are good; those three are great.

Stone Skin Press have put together a few of these themed anthologies over the past year. Based on this and the Aesop-updating ‘The Lion and The Aardvark’, they are a small publisher well worth watching.

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