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

January 24, 2016

What I did on my holidays – Summer 2015-16

I’ve been having one of those summer holidays that I will probably look back on in the future and think “That went well”.

Well, no I won’t, because I have a terrible memory for dates and what-happened-when. But in theory I could look back on it with something approaching a sense of accomplishment. I’m pretty happy with some of these highlights:

House renovations – We’ve now owned our fixer-upper house for over ten years. We’re still fixing it up, and in the forthcoming years\ we will be replacing all the flooring and at least one of the bathrooms. By comparison, painting a few patches of the vast unrenovated expanse of our external walls is a trivial enterprise. But it still feels good to have just about finished painting all of the parts of the house which are visible from the street. At least the place appears to casual passers-by to be occupied , and not at all like a drug den impounded by the cops and forgotten in an administrative bungle.

Bass guitar – My Xmas gift to myself was to buy a copy of the PC game Rocksmith 2014, which is a guitar tutorial program dressed up as a game. You jack a real electric guitar (or in my case my buddy Simon’s old bass guitar) into the computer to learn basic techniques, whole songs and tricky passages. So far I am reasonably accomplished at playing Def Leppard’s genuinely awful “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (no link provided). I’m working hard to beat that by mastering some song that would constitute an accomplishment to be proud of, like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police.

After about five weeks of fairly solid practice, I can report that I am (a) getting better but by no means good and (b) developing tough callouses on the fingers where before I had numbness and/or pain. Rock and roll stardom awaits! (as soon as I beat the tutorial on doing slide notes up and down the neck of the guitar. Those are hard). Anyway, Rocksmith gets my recommendation as well. Short of paying for lessons, it really does seem to be a very effective way to learn how to play guitar.

Songwriting – Continuing on the musical theme, I wrote some song lyrics for the first time in ages these holidays. It’s something I do on and off, just for something different. My lyrics tend to languish undeveloped unless I can convince Evan (my songwriting buddy and about the only personal I know with any real music skills) to work out an arrangement for them. This year I plan to take advantage of my slowly-growing mastery of bass and ukulele to teach myself basic song-writing. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict a YouTube channel on anyone – I still have both a terrible voice and prohibitive performance anxiety – but I’m a step closer to my goal of being able to write a whole song, not just the words.

Flash fiction – I wrote something! And finished it! I’m working on the Conflux 12 organising committee again this year. As part of the promotion for the con, the Chair will be sending out publicity in the not-too-distant future. I’ve written a story with my take on this year’s theme “Red Fire Monkey”, which will appear as part of the publicity report. For posterity’s sake, I will note that the story is a rare instance of me writing straight science fiction.

Holidays in the Hunter – Our family holiday this year included a bunch of families, staying at the delightful Lovedale Cottages in the Hunter Valley. Fifteen of us, including five kids and a three-month-old baby, snuggled up together in warm, cosy cottages as the Hunter was hammered with five days of torrential downpours that threatened to leave us trapped by rising flood waters. Fortunately the pool was indoors and heated, and in reality most of the really heavy rain was well away from us. Still, it was a bit of a wet holiday. I can recommend the Lovedale Cottages though – they have a tennis court, the aforementioned indoor pool, a golf course (!) and are very comfortably appointed in a distinctly rustic style. Especially great for big group holidays.

Granola! – Every time we travel, we inevitably end up eating breakfast at cafes once in a while. And when we do, I will automatically order one of two things (aside from coffee, which obviously goes without saying). Either I will get the eggs benedict, – because you can always judge the quality of a cafe by their attention to detail in hollandaise sauce and also because I love eggs benedict – or, if I feel as though I have been eating nothing but garbage over the course of the holiday I will pretend to be virtuous by ordering a granola with yoghurt and possibly some fruit or berries. It’s embarrassing really, but I excuse myself because neither is a meal I would make at home.

Which got me thinking, why not? And so I did the minimum possible research to discover that, in fact, granola is dreadfully simple to make. So I now have a personalised granola recipe, cobbled together from fifteen or so granola recipes I found on the internet. (This article in the Guardian about finding the perfect granola was the primary source – the beaten egg white trick seems to be the killer ingredient, although it does make my granola non-vegan, so your mileage may vary).Incidentally, my search for ingredients has taken me into a number of “natural foods” stores. If you see me in one, don’t worry: I don’t need a paleo intervention. I just need to be directed to the barley.

Anyway, the point being granola is delicious. Don’t skimp on the almonds and hazlenuts.

December 22, 2015

The year in narrow, blinkered retrospect

It’s been a big year for all sorts of stuff, but I’m not going to go into it. Instead, this is my obligatory look back at the goals I set at the start of the year. How did I go and what does that suggest for the future?

Short stories

The promise: I said I was going to maintain my stock of short stories available for submission at a steady level of ten, writing a new one whenever I took one out of circulation through either an acceptance or by retiring a story that had exhausted every viable market.

The reality: Definitively a failure in terms of productivity. In fact after writing my goals in February I did not finish a single short story all year, though I tinkered with a story (crappy working title “Unacceptable Losses”) all year and have left it floundering with probably about three hundred words to go for months now. In theory I could finish it tonight. I probably won’t though.

My stock of available stories went down thanks to three acceptances during the year. None of them have come out yet, though I was able to announce that “Seven Excerpts from Season One” will appear in the At the Edge anthology from Paper Road Press next year.

Acceptances are delightful, of course (all were paying markets) and absolutely what I’m striving for, but I did feel I let myself down a bit by not sticking to the plan of writing new material.

Oh, and I did recently receive notification that I placed highly (a “silver highly commended”) in the most recent round of the Writers of the Future contest. Which is not my best ever result but is still in the front-of-the-peloton zone.

silverhmbadge

Novel

The promise: Write a complete 80,000 word manuscript by the end of July without becoming a gibbering wreck.

The reality: Well, the July deadline came and went without great fanfare. Moreover as at the time of writing I have neither finished the manuscript nor reached the 80,000 word mark. But as I have about 500 words to get to the latter and maybe as little as two thousand words to wrap the whole thing up, I’m going to call this a mismatch between realistic scheduling and sustainable momentum rather than an outright failure. As I am now on holidays for a month, I predict I will at least get this one over the line before the end of 2016. Win!

(And is it any good? Well, no, it’s pretty rambly and largely incoherent. I have a mass of notes on what to fix, and it’s a good bet that the editing process will take at least as long as the first draft did, if not much, much longer. But it’s still nice to be within arm’s reach of the first critical milestone).

Community activity

The promise: Be a good treasurer, write a treasurer manual

The reality: Well, the manual is not finished yet and could do with a bit of dedicated attention for a couple of days, but on the whole I have acquitted myself well in this regard. I’ve been a committee member who gets shit done, and the books all balanced at the end of the year. I don’t tend to be a natural organiser or leader, and basically I find trying to get people to do things or get one the same page as each among the most demanding and draining activities I can imagine. But I can make a spreadsheet make sense, and I can make things happen in the background as long I don’t have to wrangle more than one or two people, so I’ll take this one as an accomplishment.

All the same, I will probably retire from my post at the next AGM, because I will feel I’ve done my bit at that time. Ditto with helping on the Conflux organising committee.

Blogging

The promise: Build a new author website so that I can phase this one out.

The reality: This is 90% done. I haven’t launched it yet, but it is live. Feel free to go look for it (it’s not that hard) but if you do happen to stumble across it, don’t bother subscribing to anything. I’m procrastinating on setting up mail accounts and the newsletter software. It will probably happen in the next couple of weeks.  (It’s not remotely fancy BTW. It’s a functional site with boring author information that I can point potential publishers and clients to if necessary). I haven’t yet sat down to work out a clear plan for what to do with the site beyond that, but it will probably revolve around building on my friendships within the writing community. Hit me up if you’re doing a blog tour, I guess.

The other stuff

Collaboration: Did not happen. The novel ate my year completely. I’m still toying with various ideas for projects but this is one area that would demand focus and attention. At the moment I just can’t even make that sort of promise to myself, so it would hardly be fair to drag someone else down.

Serialised fiction: I made a few plans and outlined some projects that would suit a serialised format, but again, haven’t kicked any of them off yet. There’s one in particular that’s burning a hole in the back of my skull, but it will certainly have to take a back seat to all the short stories I’ve spent the year thinking about but not writing.

Shared world: No. Sensing a theme here? Though in fact I am contemplating ideas for contributing to an existing shared world. Nothing has gelled yet on that, but my contribution would just be a short story or two.

Comic script: See collaboration above.

 

That list doesn’t make for pretty reading, but I’m probably being too harsh on myself. This nearly-done draft novel has taken about nine months, which is an improvement over the thirteen months (twice over) that my previous novel attempt sucked up. Pre-plotting has certainly sped up that process, although one of the many lessons I’ve learned about that is that I could certainly stand to do more preparation next time. I’m reluctantly forced to admit that I am a better writer when I have a clear picture of what I’m going to write, and I suspect that a scene-by-scene breakdown would not go at all astray the next time I try this.

I’ll do a proper “Goals for 2016” post at some point in the near future, but I already know I have a couple of clear goals: write a bunch of short stories, edit the novel, and plan its sequels. In the margins I think I’ll build on one of my serial fiction ideas as the fun side project, but I’m cautious about holding myself to any kind of target on that. This writing biz seems to take a lot more time than I ever think it’s going to.

 

Right. I have a icy cup of creaming soda, a Pandora station tuned to 80’s alternative rock, and five thousand words or so to write in the next nine days.

I can do this.

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…

 

 

February 12, 2015

Writing goals for 2015

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:51 pm

Like the Christmas tree in the living room that we still haven’t taken down, so too are my New Years’ writing resolutions coming through grotesquely late. Or no, wait, let’s pretend these are Chinese New Year resolutions, because those are totally a tradition in my Mediterranean-descended, lapsed Anglican leftie ex-pat Queenslander subculture. Besides, I’m quite fond of goats.

Anyway, this is my now-annual hold-myself-to-account post on my writing goals for the year. This is what I want to achieve at a minimum. Ideally I’ll beat these goals by a wide margin, especially if I get my writing streak back in place.

Short stories

At the moment I have about seven completed stories in circulation, which is to say out for submission to various publishers.

One of my goals last year was to complete ten stories, which was eminently achievable, even if I didn’t quite achieve it. This year, my plans are a little more modest. Because I intend to shift my focus onto novel writing (see below) but want to retain some short story momentum, the plan is to always have at least ten finished stories in circulation.

That means that if I retire one from circulation (like the one that’s out now for its 20th and probably final submission) or if one is actually accepted for publication, I need to get a replacement out there as soon as possible. In practise, that means that step one is to complete the three or four stories I have in rough draft, and then maybe sketch out another one or two in preparation for the next time I need to return the budget to surplus (so to speak).

Of course, the caveat here is that the stories have to be good enough for me to want to send them out under my own name. There’s a minimum standard of quality here that I won’t allow myself to slip below. On the other hand, what I’ll need to watch out for is that I don’t let my natural self-critical inclinations get in the way of getting things finished and out the door. Evidence suggests that I am more than capable of chewing over drafts and procrastinating on edits for months at a time, to the detriment of other, more valuable work. I have to make sure I stay out of my own way.

Short story goals: (i) Get my submittable stories up to ten; (ii) always have ten stories in circulation.

Novels

For me, this is the big one. From the painful experience of couple of fairly attempts in the past, I’ve convinced myself that novel-length stories are not a comfortable fit for me. I’ve had a novel outline worked out in (for me) quite a lot of detail for almost a year now.

In all that time, I’ve come up with every excuse under the sun not to start: “I need to finish these short stories first.” “I don’t know if I can fit it in with my job hunting.” (Yes, seriously, i used that one a lot!) “I don’t really know what’s happened in the middle of the novel.” “Am I really sure my lead character doesn’t have the stupidest name in all literature?” and of course, “I really, really want to watch Breaking Bad before I get spoiled for the ending.” (PS: Still winning on that last one. Please don’t spoil the ending of Breaking Bad for me. I’m more than halfway through now).

In the end, all the excuses are blithering nonsense. I want to be a not-completely-obscure writer, so I need to write what people are reading. Pretty much only Ken Liu and Kelly Link are capable of becoming huge in the science fiction and fantasy genre without writing novels. I am neither, nor do I have the requisite initials of KL. Anyone else who wants to make a mark writes a novel.

So, I’m writing a novel. I think I’m going to start on the first of March, or thereabouts. The goal is to finish it by the end of July, which will require a mildly demanding commitment of 500 words a day. The presence of a detailed outline should help, but we’ll see.

The novel, by the way, is the first volume in a young adult science fiction trilogy. Yes, one of those – do feel free to groan audibly. So I will be writing (a) a novel which is (b) part of a series with (c) a young adult protagonist in (d) a fairly-hard science fiction setting. Every single one of those is outside my comfort zone. Put them all together and I expect to be either a gibbering wreck or a phoenix ascending on wings of flaming triumph. Possibly somewhere between the two.

Novel goal: Write a first draft of an 80,000-ish word novel by the end of July.

Supplementary goal: Don’t become a gibbering wreck.

Community activity

I like being a member of a writing community. So much so that I’ve volunteered as the Treasurer of the CSFG committee this. Apart from getting my head around the minor complexities of double-entry bookkeeping, one of my less glamorous writing projects for the year will be to prepare a how-to manual for being the club treasurer. Handovers from one committee to the next have traditional been slow, stuttering affairs – I want to do my bit to make the handover to the next poor sap as seamless as possible by giving them a reference.

Okay, it’s pretty boring, but technical writing is still writing, and in the end it might be among the more demonstrably useful things I do this year. Market analytics indicate the potential audience could be as high as one person every two years, which is on a par with the current audience for my fiction. 😉

Treasurer goal: Write the book on being the CSFG Treasurer. Also, do all the treasuring stuff.

I’ve also taken a relatively minor, straightforward job with the Conflux convention organising committee. I’ll be coordinating the dealers’ room, which means organising vendors, setting up tables and probably getting a heap of coffees for people. In reality I’ll probably end up being roped into other tasks, but at this stage my contribution will be low-key. It didn’t occur to me until later that the not-immediately-obvious benefit of this particular job is that I will have an excuse – no, obligation – to introduce myself to as many publishers of science fiction and fantasy fiction as possible.

Blogging

By trivial coincidence, this should be the 700th blog post on Lexifabricographer. That’s a little hard to believe, but I’m prepared to accept the word of my blog dashboard rather than go back and count. My buddy Andrew kicked my first Lexifab blog over to WordPress back in February 2006, which means this one has been going even longer than the old Blogger one.

It’s looking a bit long in the tooth, to be honest. Since I only started using searchable tags at the start of last year, it’s a bit of a pain to find anything specific on this site. well, if there were anything particularly worth searching for, which is not a call I’d make.

Time for a makeover!

Or rather, time to build a completely new website, dedicated to the whole “being an author” thing. I’ll blog my news and writing stuff there, post up free fiction for Marco, and sales portals for anything that I eventually get published (or published myself). Plus I will totally get a swanky author photo, possibly featuring the subject leaning nonchalantly against something and smirking awkwardly.

With the hosts’ permission, I’ll probably keep this site around for family-and-friends blogging. That separation feels important, not particularly because I’ll be hiding anything, but more because I do occasionally feel moved to commit acts of diary. I can see times when that’s probably not what readers of my epic fourteen-novel series about vampire Hussars on the Trans-Siberian railway will be hunting for.

(PS: Someone commission me to write about railway vampires, because I could totally lock that corner of the market).

As part of the push to furnish the new site with some content, I’ll probably be pushing some free content out – flash pieces and drabbles, most likely. I had a mad urge to undertake a Drabble-a-Day challenge (a drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words, by the way) but I’m not going to distract myself with that until I’ve got the story and novel projects well underway.

None of this will happen quickly. I’ll be teaching myself all of the web administration stuff as I go (or more likely cadging favours from friends who already know how to do all this stuff). So far I don’t even have the domain name. Will get to that after the weekend.

Blog goal: Build a new author website like a real grownup might have.

Let’s go, 2015!

Those are my concrete must-haves for 2015. Those are the things I want to have done and locked by the end of the year. I reckon it’s all achievable, though how comfortably so will depend a lot on how readily I overcome my various anxieties relating to long-form fiction, unfamiliar social interactions and systems administration.

In my next post, I’ll go through a shopping list of more esoteric writing goals – stuff I feel like I want to try my hand at, even if I don’t have a specific purpose in mind just yet.

 

 

 

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 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.

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?)

April 29, 2013

Conflux 9/NatCon 52 – The Wrap-up

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 4:34 pm

I’m still coming down from the unrelenting funfest of four consecutive days of congoing preceded by ten or so days’ travel with small children. And by “I’m still coming down” I mean I am crashing harder than a laptop in a blender. So hard that my analogies make no sense whatsoever.

The 52nd Australian National Science Fiction Convention, attached this year to the Canberra Conflux 9 con, was held over the Anzac Day extra-long weekend. By world standards it was, I’m sure, pretty small peanuts, but for me it was an overwhelming celebration of Australia’s wonderful and vibrant speculative fiction community.

Too much happened for me to summarise in one post, so I’m going to do a series of short posts to hit all my personal highlights, from the launch of the Next anthology, the fun and informative program of panels (some of which included me due to my extensive qualification of having agreed to be on panels), the new books I snaffled, the Ditmar awards and various other things as I they come to mind. The blogs will be necessarily short because, having lost a fortnight of productivity to travel and con-going, I’m massively behind schedule on both writing my novel and critiquing someone else’s. [1]

[1] Don’t worry Leife – I’ll get there!

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