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

October 6, 2015

Conflux is done for another year. Back to work.

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 3:41 pm

Everything came together on the weekend, which turned out to be more of a relief than I’d realised. I’d already figured out that between the overseas trip, the final preparations for Conflux, the end-of-year accounting for the CSFG’s finances and the launch of a new book all happening in the space of four weeks, any hope of having brain-cycles left over for writing was a complete bust.

That all done now, or almost so. The October long weekend saw Canberra’s speculative fiction writing convention Conflux 11 go off without any particularly significant hitches. This was my first year volunteering for the con organising committee (as the dealers’ room coordinator). It turns out I maaaaaaaaay have been carrying a little residual stress about making sure I covered every possible detail from every conceivable angle. By the time of the con’s launch on Friday morning, I was on my fourth consecutive morning of waking up at about 4 am with a to-do checklist running through my head. It’s a small miracle that I don’t seem to have spent the entire weekend responding to every single question with unintelligible blabbering.

No, I’m sure the blabbering was completely coherent.

The other big deal for the convention was the launch of the new CSFG anthology The Never Never Land. We had our official book launch on Sunday evening, with probably half the contributing authors in attendance. As we were still pulling together small details like collecting the print run and paying for the catering right up to the last minute, it was – as they say in showbiz – all right on the night. Shauna O’Meara (who did the gorgeous cover art) and Cat Sparks (who took this gallery of remarkable con photos – the TNNL launch ones are near the bottom of page 2) did readings from their excellent short stories, Nicole Murphy MC’ed and first-among-editorial-equals Ian McHugh gave thanks to the committee. I may have missed my name being mentioned because I was trying to skull a light beer before the bookselling started.

(I don’t have a story in Never Never, by the way. I started one but didn’t figure out how to finish it until about six months after the submissions closed).

And I didn’t get to see much of the convention, though I did sit in on a couple of quite remarkable panels. One was about managing your career as an author – which featured Isobelle Carmody extolling the virtues of a personal assistant, among other delights – and the other about what writers choose to sacrifice in order to have the space to write. Both were instructive as to the diversity of experiences on the path to success, however an individual may define it. I suppose that other panels might not have been quite as serious or thoughtful, but I counted myself lucky to catch the discussions I did.

And now it’s Tuesday, I’m back at work and I am flat out. I still have quite a bit of admin to tie up, both CSFG and convention-related, but excuse-time is up. I gotta get back on the word-pony and get some stuff done. I have at least another 3-4 chapters left to deal with on the novel. I have at least two short stories to finish and another two outlined that I could be writing. And I still haven’t set up my new author web page, despite having a bunch of stuff sitting ready to go for weeks now.

I think my next blogging job will be to review my 2015 goals and see how far behind I’ve fallen…



September 15, 2015

At the Edge anthology coming in 2016

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 2:53 pm

The news of the past day is leaving me with an acute case of advanced schadenfreude, so I’m not going to address it today. Instead I’ll turn to even happier (on a personal level) events.

One lovely bit of news that I’ve been sitting on for quite a while is that I have a new story coming out next year. The story is called “Seven Excerpts from Season One” and will appear in the 2016 anthology At the Edge from Paper Road Press in New Zealand. I won’t say too much about the story other than to vaguely describe it as my “Youtube high school ghost hunters” piece.

This planet has lovely sunsets. Mind the flying stingray monsters.

This planet has lovely sunsets. Mind the flying stingray monsters.

Quite apart from the sheer delight of getting accepted for publication, I am very excited to be sharing a table of contents again with my Brisbane writer-buddies Jodi Cleghorn and Tom Dullemond, who both also have work coming out (sooner or later) in The Lane of Unusual Traders. I love their stuff and can’t wait to read what they’ve done.

I’ll share more about At the Edge as information comes out. In the meantime, I plan to spend quite a lot of time admiring the lovely cover art from Wellington artist Emma Weakley.


October 19, 2014

Review – Suspended in Dusk (Edited by Simon Dewar)

Suspended in Dusk (Books of the Dead Press 2014) is an outstanding collection of supernatural suspense stories. All the more so for it being edited by a first time anthologist. The story of the mountains editor Simon Dewar moved in order to get this anthology into print is worthy of its own entry in the volume. I’m pretty sure supernatural horror played a part alongside his sheer implacable force of will. I don’t know if he has a basement at his house, but maybe don’t go down there if you happen to be visiting.

But to the stories themselves: they’re excellent. In my personal taxonomy I class them more as suspense than horror, creating a sense of unease and haunting doubt rather than going for a visceral pulse-accelerating (or heart-stopping) effect. And not all of them are supernatural, though that’s the most common technique here, alongside the central motif of dusk, when the certainty of daylight begins to give way to the disquiet of night’s darkness. Out of a collection of 19 stories, there were only one or two that didn’t resonate with me – an amazing hit rate that puts Dewar in a class with some of the finest editors in the business as far as I’m concerned.

I won’t mention every story but here are some of the highlight:

Alan Baxter’s ‘Shadows of The Lonely Dead’ kicks off the collection strongly, with a melancholy meditation on the grief and isolation of the terminally ill, shot through with a strong sense of empathy and righteous indignation. Anna Reith follows with ‘Taming the Stars’, in which a drug deal goes insanely badly for a couple of grubby Parisian chancers. I loved Chris Limb’s nightmarish bureaucrat in ‘Ministry of Outrage’, which has a horribly plausible conspiratorial heart. Stacey Larner’s ‘Shades of Memory’ is a grim post-apocalyptic ghost story which I felt a personal connection to (it’s set in a small highway township not far from where I was born). Legendary horror writer Ramsey Campbell offers up a nice take on a classic claustrophobic nightmare scenario in ‘Digging Deep’. Tom Dullemond’s ‘Would to God That We Were There’ is a wonderfully creepy account of a doomed space mission. Angela Slatter closes out the anthology with another suspenseful encounter in the wake of an unspecified apocalypse in ‘The Way of All Flesh’ (it’s delightfully nasty).

Honestly I feel bad skipping over the stories I didn’t cover. The ones I was least interested in were still strong pieces, and overall the quality was impressively high. There’s little outright horror here, but there’s plenty of grist for a few quality bad dreams as a result of a late-night dip into Suspended in Dusk.

(Disclaimer: This collection was edited by a friend of mine, so take my review with the usual grain of salt. That said, if I didn’t like it, I would just have quietly not written a review).

June 19, 2014

Anthology calls for later reference

Don’t mind this – it’s a list of upcoming anthologies that I may be interested in submitting to. Hey, you might be interested too, what do I know? And if you happen to be aware of any submission calls for upcoming anthologies that you think I might want to have a go at, let me know.

Blurring the Line by Cohesion Press  (horror) – http://cohesionpress.com/submissions/anthologies/ – Max 5000 words; 1 August to 31 October 2014

Hear Me Roar by Ticonderoga Publications (strong women) – http://ticonderogapublications.com/index.php/about-us/submissions/hear-me-roar-anthology – 2500-7500 words; 21 April to 5 November 2014.

The Never Never Land by CSFG Publications (Australian speculative) – http://www.csfg.org.au/2014/02/20/call-for-submissions-the-never-never-land/ – 1000-5000 words; 1 June to 31 August 2014.

The Lane of Unusual Traders by Tiny Owl Workshop (strange shops) – http://thelaneofunusualtraders.com/guidelines/ – Flash fiction up to 500 words, 1 June to 31 July 2014; Short stories up to 3000 words, 1 June to 31 August 2014.

Clam, if you can’t think of something great for that last one I will eat my own face off [1].


Update 1:

Midnight Echo 11 by Midnight Echo/AHWA (Sinister) – http://midnightechomagazine.com/submission-guidelines/ – 5000 words maximum; 1 July to 31 October 2014


[1] Bloodthirsty spectacle not guaranteed

February 6, 2014

Update: The Barossa, Shakespeare and writing

It’s another day at work with nothing to do while my job and I continue to be ground to a fine powder by the Machinery of Government arrangements. I’ve stood in front of glaciers that get along at a quicker clip than these bloody processes. So apologies to any Australian taxpayers out there, but this one’s on your dollar.

Fiona and I spend the Invasion Day long weekend in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, touring about the vineyards and generally ignoring the rest of the world unless it pertained to a small selection of sporting events. As a side note, the Tour Down Under is quite the popular topic in South Australia around this time of the year. Luckily we arrived the day after the race had moved on from the Barossa itself.

The Barossa, it turns out, wasn’t particulary our favourite wine district to visit – that was probably the Margaret River in Western australia, although bits of New Zealand and Tasmania give it a run for its money. In fairness to the Barossa though, we were visiting just after one heatwave and just before another one, in the middle of one of the hottest summers anyone there can remember. So it was looking a bit dry and sorry for itself – excluding all the rich, well-watered grape vines, of course.

It did turn out, no surpise, that the Barossa is a good place to pick up some quality plonk though. Shiraz is the local speciality, with rieslings popular in the nearby Eden Valley. All very good, but we also picked up some excellent roses and…why am I even telling you this? If you come over to my place we can drink some. Otherwise I don’t have the wine vocabulary to describe what we drank, and if you wanted to read about wine you’d go and get James Halliday’s latest, probably.

(Actually if you do want to read about wine I can recommend The Wine Wankers blog, which is not at all up itself and has meta-tags like “humorous wine images” and “horse piss”)

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing The Essential Theatre Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Seppeltsfield Winery. It’s a very entertaining interpretation of one of the more fun Shakespeare plays, especially over a few glasses of red. They’re touring about the country (to vineyards, chiefly) for the next few months – check the itinerary and if you happen to be in their vicinity I can highly recommend it. Their Puck alone is worth the price of admission (as should always be the case with Midsummer…). Oh, if you’re in the Canberra region they will be at Flint in the Vines at Shaw Estate this coming weekend (Saturday 8 February) – you probably just about have time to get tickets!

On the writing front, I am closing in on my target of completing my novel manuscript by the end of February as planned. My writing streak of 400+ words is at 35 unbroken days now, and I’m averaging about 520 words a day. When I’m done, I am going to have to return to the drawing board again and review the structure of the novel – the start is too slow, the plot spends a lot of time up some blind alleys and too much of the action is delayed until late in the book. But the meat is there, so all I need to do is trim fat and rearrange some of the bones. Whether that results in fatal trauma to the story remains to be seen.

Yesterday I slapped another couple of scenes onto the short story I’m working on, which means that I think it’s done. I’ll put it away and work on something else for a week or so, then dig it out and see whether it still flows as it’s meant to. If I’m happy then, off it goes for submission somewhere.

In the meantime I’m working on a short story for this excellent little project – Unfettered by Tiny Owl Workshop – which will be an anthology of short stories inspired by a collection of beautiful, quirky illustrations by Terry Whidborne. Some lovely stuff there, and I am trying to work up a concept for each illustration before I decide which one I’ll write (I may write more than one).

And last of all, I’ve received notice that my first short story (or rather, the first one I ever submitted for publication anywhere, which spent some 14 months looking for a publisher) will be going to contract in the next week or so. So I might actually be able to use this blog to Announce a Thing! Not yet, but soon, maybe!

October 19, 2013

TMoRP Day 3 – Stories by Ian McHugh (January)

To kick off my month by month look back at the best short stories I’ve read this year, I’m going to immediately break my rules. I said I was going to take a look at a single story for each month, but for January 2013 I’m going to look instead at two stories by a single author. The man in question is Ian McHugh, who is one of the luminaries of our Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. But I’m not writing about him because he happens to be a mate and a bit of a mentor, but because he wrote two flat-out terrific stories that I happened to read in January this year.

The first was Bitter Dreams, which I read in the Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy Fifth Annual Volume. Up until recently, editors Bill Congreve (and sometimes Michelle Marquardt, though not this particular volume) put out one of these collections every year. The title kind of gives away what’s in them, and from my reading of three of the five volumes available, they are well worth picking up for a good cross-section of writing in the speculative genre. The Year Five volume (covering 2009 publications) is pretty damned dark, though, be warned – most of this particular issue seems to be dark fantasy or horror.

But this is about Bitter Dreams. Bitter Dreams is a slice of colonial-era dark fantasy, using the extremely haunted alternate Australia setting he’s used in a few of his stories. Structurally it’s not unlike a wild west story, with a lawman putting together a posse of locals to investigate a murder and mysterious goings-on in an out of the way Victorian settlement. Of course, under McHugh’s sure hand, everything goes horribly, violently wrong. It’s a horror story with set dressing from Rush (he said, making a pop culture reference from, like, forty years ago. For something a little more contemporary, imagine The Tracker, but instead of Gary Sweet going bonkers, you’ve got extraordinarily hostile ghosts). Ian’s published it on his website, so you can read it yourself.

The second McHugh story I read was Red Dirt, which is currently available online at the Beneath Ceaseless Skies website. I read it in the Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Three ebook compilation. BCS focuses on weird, fantastic (mostly second-world) fantasy, and nearly everything I’ve seen there is well worth a look. They have several best-of anthologies for four bucks in all ebook formats. They have my endorsement.

Red Dirt is set in an alternate history in which the Dutch have established a foothold on the Australian continent (Nieuw Holland rather than Australia) and are competing with the English for territory. As with Bitter Dreams, the ancient, terrible alien land is unconcerned with European politics. It seems determined to drive off the invaders, send them insane or just to eat them. This story concerns a French ship’s captain negotiating corrupt port officials, wayward crewmen and stalking, nightmarish dream-horrors. You may be startled to learn that, like Bitter Dreams, this story involves  gruesome encounters with the supernatural and a high body count, both typical features in McHugh’s writing.

Check ’em out, yo. They’re free, and they’re great!

October 18, 2013

TMoRP Day 2 – Short story challenge

Filed under: the month of relentless positivity — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 10:54 pm

Of the goals I set for myself at the start of the year, the only one that I’m comfortably ahead on is reading short stories. At the end of 2012, Alan Baxter wrote on his blog about reading more widely in the short story form. The target he set was to read at least one short story a day in 2013. I figured that I could have a stab at the same accomplishment. Like Alan, I guessed that I would fall short of the mark, that life would get in the way or that I would lose interest in tracking stats all year.

What I forgot is Kickstarter. Specifically, what I forgot is my complete lack of impulse control when it comes to people calling for backers for short story anthologies. Shame prevents me from checking, but my Kindle probably has at least two dozen short story collections and themed anthologies in electronic format, most of which are Kickstarter rewards. A few others have come to me via Humble Bundle deals, I have a couple of e-magazine subscriptions and some preferred websites, and a few other books have been discounted at Amazon just when I happened to be browsing Twitter and saw a link.

(Okay, I have a serious problem with buying more reading material than I need. Let’s move right along past that not-at-any-time-in-my-entire-life-has-that-been news. We’re being positive here.)

On top of that, there are any number of great podcasts featuring live reads of short fiction. The one I mainly follow is the Clarkesworld Podcast. I just don’t have enough listening time to follow too many more than that. There are plenty of others, though, and at some point in the future I plan to study the field in a little more depth.

For right now though, the point is that I have access to a metric crapton of short stories. The vast majority are fantasy, science fiction or mystery/crime (in that order) though I have a few other odds and ends waiting for some eyeball time.

And oh, how I’ve read them. In quantities far more vast that I would have expected when I started. As of yesterday, my spreadsheet has recorded the titles, authors and sources of the 598 pieces of short fiction I’ve read since the first of January. After I finish this I’ll go to bed and read at least a few more, taking the number comfortably past 600 stories.

So: apparently I like reading short stories. Now, to be sure, there are plenty of stories in the list which are super-short – say, under 2000 words in length, most of which probably took no more than four or five minutes to read (at most). I know for a fact that I’ve counted several pieces of flash fiction (i.e. 1000 words or less) but I know I’ve read many more that I didn’t record. I only bothered with the short-short pieces I thought were reasonably memorable, something that i find is rarely accomplished in flash-length pieces.

Much of what I’ve read has been middling at best, which gives me great hope that there are plenty of markets out there for not-terrible-but-not-great writing (ahem). However, this is The Month of Relentless Positivity, and we are only talking about the things that make us gleeful. So consider today’s entry to be a generalised “Woo! Short stories! Aren’t they terrific?”

But take it also as the launchpad for a number of sequel posts on a similar subject. I’ve gone to all the trouble to keep this now-oversized spreadsheet, and further to mark all the stories I thought were pretty noteworthy, if not outright great. So now I’m going to do a series of posts (not necessarily in straight succession as that might be a little tedious) in which I gush about the best stories I read month by month, talking about what I loved about it, where I first came across the story and whatever else it might have meant to me. If there’s a copy of it available online somewhere (legitimately that is) I’ll link to it.

Note that this won’t be a best-of-2013 list, because I expect that the majority of stories are older than that. While there are a lot that were 2013 publications, most are probably from the last decade rather than the last 12 months, and some a quite a bit older again.

But yeah, short stories: they rock. Starting tomorrow, I’ll talk about the ones which rocked me.

The Month of Relentless Positivity – Day 2 Progress Report . I’m already almost behind schedule. Well, no surprises there, but I think I’ll try to get a few extra entries lined up so that days like today, which featured no spare minutes before 10 pm, don’t kill  the project. Luckily, I came up with this content-generation concept that will be good for at least 10 entries, so I should have enough to be getting on with.

July 6, 2013

Review – The Mammoth Book of SteamPunk

Very quick review of something I bought on a whim a few weeks ago, because I don’t have much of a sense of what counts as steampunk. I figured that something called The Mammoth Book of Steampunk (edited by Sean Wallace), ought to give me a good feel for it. The short answer is: anything goes, pretty much. If you think it’s steampunk, then it probably is… (I got a hardcopy, but the kindle version is a surprisingly good bargain)

As the name implies, this is a massive volume showcasing the broad possibilities encompassed by the term ‘steampunk’. There are dirigibles as far as the eye can see, certainly, as well as mad inventors, clockwork animals and steam-powered limbs, as you might expect.

There are also supernatural horrors, gear-filled monsters, spring-driven thieves and a couple of surprise castrations. There’s derring-do, whimsy, and drama; there’s alternate history, historical fantasy, provocative science fiction and angry political thrillers. I doubt it would qualify as a particularly accessible introduction to the core conceits of steampunk, but it certainly serves as an excellent overview of a popular subgenre.

Of particular note are N.K. Jemisin’s outstanding “The Effluent Engine”, about the machinations of a Haitian spy trying to preserve her country’s newfound freedom; Aliette de Bodard’s “Prayers of Forges and Furnaces”, depicting an advanced Aztec empire; Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Steam Dancer (1896)”, a drama concerning a unique performance artist; and Nick Mamatas’ “Arbeitskraft”, in which a wealthy revolutionary builds an artificial Karl Marx with which to inspire the proletariat. That last one’s a bit horrific, by the way.

As with most large anthologies, there are a few stories here which are not to my tastes. But considering the size of it – thirty stories in all – that’s an impressive hit rate. However, in answer to Doctor Clam’s excited enquiry I must report with the heaviest of hearts that this particular volume contains no mammoths whatsoever, steam-powered or otherwise.

June 10, 2013

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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