Saturday, December 31, 2011

COME IN 2011, YOUR TIME IS UP.


And so it was, and so it is, and so what? Here's my year in a nut case: pack it, and get out.


1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before? Sell a novel. (Yeah, there’s going to be a theme to this year’s list…). Acquire an agent. Teach on online writing course.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I had 5 goals. I met one. If not for the one big success it would have been a year made of fail. I’ve set some goals for 2012, and am guaranteed to make at least a couple—can you say ‘contractual obligations’, my darlings?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Not this year. One to come in 2012, it appears.

4. Did anyone close to you die? No.

5. What countries did you visit? I visited Country Road, but it just took me home, to the place where I belong. Which appears to be West Virginia. Weird.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011? Money money money money money money. Money. 

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 26th October. “Dear Lee. On behalf of Angry Robot…” The day my career changed immeasurably.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Selling my novel. Followed in quick succession, as it was in reality, by securing the services of my agent. Both are big stepping stones in my projected career arc, and achieving them has left me looking forward at an entirely different vista than the one I contemplated at the start of the year. My career has been refreshed in every way possible.

9. What was your biggest failure? Pretty much everything else. Apart from that one big moment, I never really got going this year. It was a year of stagnation on just about every front.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Stayed fairly clear of anything major this year, but my base level of discomfort from the accumulated niggles and lack of alignment, was high.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Hmm. I’d say “all the Lego we accumulated”, on the basis that it’s given the kids and I a common hobby and proven to be a household item that has attracted almost everyone to squat down on the floor around the spread-out sheet and share the simple joy of playing and chatting together, except that Lyn might scream and beat me to death with a 16x16 baseplate. I’d also have nominated the good quality vacuum cleaner we purchased with some of my tutoring money which, after a series of crappy off-the-shelf models, is proving to be the super-duper carpet thrasher we’ve needed for years. But I’m going to go with the bikes we got the kids for Christmas: watching the kids ride has motivated us to break our own dust-covered treddlies out of the garage, and decide as a family to ride together at least once a week, weather permitting, and to incorporate riding into all our holiday and day off plans. So, on the basis that they’ll give us a wonderful new outlet for enjoying our family time, they win.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration? Aiden, once, again, who took on responsibilities beyond his age, and was rewarded with betrayal. Lyn, who worked ceaselessly to provide the family a hub to revolve around, and who continues to put the world before herself.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? Aiden’s (now) ex-girlfriend, who exposed all her immature failings in one fell swoop, and destroyed their relationship, then continued to act in a manger guaranteed to lose all the good will and care she had built up with our family over the last two years. A former friend of Lyn’s, who has proven herself to be the two-faced hypocrite I have spent years pretending not to recognise for one.

14. Where did most of your money go? As far as I can tell, a small black hole somewhere to the east of the ecliptic plane. Also, Lego.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? The upswing in my writing career, that has taken from me from a moribund and directionless short story writer into a new and exciting sphere of possibility.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011? Antisocial Tendencies, by this year’s big discovery, Dog Trumpet. A gentle, yet pained, nod to the personal journeys that make a man, and the understanding that sometimes, being unmutual is part of what you need to be the person you need to be.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer? Pretty much level pegging on all counts. Life, for all its current complications, still smells pretty good, and everything else can be dealt with as it arises. Holding pattern, with expectations of movement in the coming year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Progressing my lifestyle. Holding patterns are all very well, but the view starts to get a bit boring after a while.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Losing focus, and being demoralised. A new set of career goals will serve to change that in the coming year.

20. How did you spend Christmas? Building my enormous Lego Christmas present, being teetotal, and picking Aiden up from work. Just like most other Sundays.

21. Who did you meet for the first time? In the flesh, and very briefly, the members of the Perth Adult Lego Society. In the electro, Lee, Marc and Amanda, the Angry Robot luminaries. And the Anxious Appliances, fine fellows and novelists one and all, who gathered around a booth at the back of the imaginary tavern that is the Angry Robot Waiting Club and raised mugs of imaginary ale to our continued health.

22. Did you fall in love in 2011? Nobody new. Kept the view focussed inward, and rewarded myself with enjoying my family. 

23. What was your favourite TV program? Horrible Histories wins hands down. An historical sketch show for kids based on the Terry Deary books of the same name, it’s so clever, witty and engaging that it’s become a firm favourite of all of us, and has been on high rotation viewing all year. No contest.

We also discovered the wonderful imagination of Bryan Fuller, a man who writes TV worlds like the ones I want to create in my works. Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies were both devoured: lyrical, engaging, and delightfully quirky series’ that still managed to be deadly serious and intensly human when it mattered. Wonderful stuff.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? No hate, but deep distaste and no small measure of contempt for those who betrayed my son's and wife’s trust and love.

25. What was the best book you read? More than a few biographies in the mix this year, and the best of the lot was The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa by Murray Waldren. I’ve been using Goodreads to keep track for the last 12 months, and you can read my review of it here.

Honourable Mentions to:
Charles Manson: Coming Down Fast— Simon Wells
Booklife—Jeff Vandermeer
The Man in my Basement—Walter Mosely
Lego: A Love Story— Jonathan Bender
Omni Visions 2—Ellen Datlow (ed)
The City & The City by China Meivelle

There were a few real stinkers in the pile too, and worst of the lot were the following:

Lost in a Good Book—Jasper Fforde
The Enterprise of Death-- Jesse Bullington
Heliotrope-- Justina Robson

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? Dog Trumpet, the duo formed by Reg Mombassa and Peter O’Doherty after leaving Mental as Anything, combine the quirkiness of the Mentals’ best moments with a simplicity of approach and gentility that really struck a chord with me this year. I also revisited my love of Ian Dury after reading a particularly good biography, and have been luxuriating in the nasty brilliance of his lyrics all over again.  

27. What was your favourite film of this year? After last year’s embarrassment of riches it was a pretty thin year this time out. Not a bad year, as such, but simply a rather ordinary one, with very little that excited or stirred the senses. There were, however, a couple of good ‘acting’ movies that stood out for me. The King’s Speech and The Yellow Room are both what I would call ‘good old-fashioned English’ movies, in that simple direction, superb acting, and high-quality scripts do more than a million Hollywood explosions to draw you in and keep you engaged until the very final moment.

Sadly, the Will Ferrell Memorial Tower of Crap Award this year has to go to the by-product of one of our favourite televisual moments: the telemovie Dead Like Me: Life After Death picks up on the series 5 years after its conclusion, and somehow manages to ignore and/or betray everything the original series had built up, portraying deep and human characters in buffoonish and dislikeable ways in a plot that goes out of its way to insult the intelligence of the viewer. Not just a disappointment, it left me feeling like the creators were actively expressing their hatred of their own audience. Dishonourable mentions for Grass, a movie so bad it became the first film in several years that I’ve failed to finish, and Rango, a big-budget animated so-what-who-cares-a-thon that had so little to recommend it that even our 6 year old was bored.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 41, and built Lego while eating in front of the TV. I am a grown up.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Membership in the Green Lantern Corps. And punching Ryan Reynolds in the face. The two may not necessarily be unconnected. 

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011? ‘Concept’ is a very strong word…

31. What kept you sane? You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause.

32. What political issue stirred you the most? FIFA, racism, and the widespread corruption and general shittification of the sport I love. 

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011. We must cultivate our own garden. 

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Delusions of grandeur, delusions of grandeur
I'm a dedicated follower of my own success
I can handle the glamour, I can cope with the stress
Deal with the doughnuts and please all the rest
I'm polite to the punters and sweet to the press
 
I just won a trophy from a radio station
I'm leaving my bat and my balls to the nation
 
I've got megalomania, I've got megalomania
To be a twinkle in the show-biz dream
To which effect I could connive and scheme
I dive into the dairy and I lap up all the cream
I'm up to the armpits in self-esteem
 
                               --Delusions of Grandeur, Ian Dury & The Blockheads
 

Monday, December 19, 2011

PSSST... BUDDY.... WANNA READ A BOOK?

Are you an opinionated reader who wishes they could tell moron authors how they should write their goddamn books?

Got nothing to fill your evenings between now and the end of February? Looking for a break from bad porn, cheetos, and waking up at midnight covered in cat hair and your own sick?

Wanna have a read of something cool before the unwashed masses get their grubby hands all over it and turn it into some shitty teen movie with a poncey monobrowed git in it so you can act all superior and mumble about how you were into it before it became all popular and commercialised and cheapened and shit?

Then you've come to the right place, my friends!

I'm looking for beta readers to road test The Corpse-Rat King and tell me if I've missed anything in the couple of slack read throughs I've meandered through exhaustive editing process I've undertaken so far.

In return for spending your time snuggled up with a MS Word copy of the manuscript you'll get a thank you in the acknowledgements and I'll kill off an anagrammatically altered namesake* of you in the sequel. Deal?

First half a dozen or so people to email me get the gig.


* Playing with such things has led me to realise that my darling's maiden name -- Lyn Kiely-- makes Nyl Likey, which may set the record for the crappiest Porn name in all creation......

Sunday, December 18, 2011

GRINCHY ROBOT

Over at the Angry Robot website, I've joined in their 12 Days of Christmas series of guest posts with a missive discussing my somewhat... convoluted... relationship with that time of year when we teach children that it's okay for a drunk, fat stranger to force cattle to pull heavy loads across millions of miles without rest, feed or palliative care whilst he commits several million B&Es to leave gifts for small children without anyone ever once mentioning the concept of grooming....

You've been with me long enough to know what I'm like. Won't it be fun exposing the Angry Robot readers to my way of thinking? >:)

The whole post is here. Go, read, comment, scare the shit out of the Angry Robot overlords when they realise how many of us there are......


Monday, December 12, 2011

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THERE?

Hm. Friday my computer goes spla, Saturday my blog goes spla, and I lose my lovely template.

I don't get my computer back for at least another week. Consider this grim and featureless black and grey vista a temporary measure. Something you'll look at now because you're forced to but will forget as soon as something even remotely acceptable comes along.

Think of it as a Jennifer Aniston movie.

Friday, December 09, 2011

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!

980.

That's how many novels were submitted to the Angry Robot Open Submission Month, back in March. And after 9 months, 3 novelists have emerged as new Angry Robot authors.

3 out of 980.

And I'm one of them.

As of late last night, Perth time, all the agent-robot negotiations have ceased, contracts have been signed and returned, blood has been spilled, sperm has been frozen in jars, children have been sent to labour camps, bios have been written, announcements have been posted, and I can now officially announce that The Corpse-Rat King and a sequel, titled Rising Dead (until I can convince the Angry Robot overlords I have a better title) have been bought, with the first to appear late in 2012 and the second in 2013.

You may consider me more than a little rapt :)




10 YEARS ON

It's December 9 2011.

For those who came in late, today marks 10 years since my wife, Sharon, went into surgery to discover the source of an infection that had taken hold of her since our first child had been born four days earlier. She never regained consciousness, and died later that evening. She was 32.

As decades go, it's been a turbulent one. I find myself, 10 years later, in a loving, happy marriage, with children-- both genetic and inherited-- who fill me with laughter and delight, in a day job that stimulates and inspires me, with a writing career that (as you shall soon read) is about to step up to a level that I didn't even envisage back in 2001, when I was still coming to terms with a major car accident, had my 2nd short story sale under my belt, and was a Tax Officer expecting his first child. I am, quite simply, not the man I was 10 years ago. I have rebuilt my life, and am happy with it. But I've had to fight for that happiness, every inch of the way, and many people who could not make the adjustment, who would not allow me the chance to try, who needed me to remain as I was-- tortured and tragic and a convenient source for pity-- have not made it to this point of my journey with me.

Sharon should never have died. But for the criminal negligence of an incompetent doctor, she would still be alive, and the life I have, vastly different though it would have been, would have been hers to share. She was a beautiful, lively, and wondrous person, and she deserved a life to match. And I wish nothing but pain and anguish upon the man who took it away from her. I will never forgive him.

But I survived, and I have found incredible happiness with the beautiful and inspirational woman who shares my life, and I cannot look around me and see anything that matters to me that does not give me joy.

A decade can be a long time. But you have to work at it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MOC ME AT YOUR PERIL

The world is in danger. The skies are filled with enemies. If this was the 19th century, HG Wells and Richard Burton would kick some serious arse, using only the medium of tiny little germs and a great big rock and roll orchestra.

But these are the medieval times, and Rock Opera is a mere twinkle in Rick Wakeman's glitter-bedecked ancestor's eyes. Thankfully, someone cares. Someone is watching. Someone Samurai...... -ey.

This is the Samurai SETI Research Station.




Whilst students confer outside, Samurai Masters 'Tears Paper Into Strips' and 'Wood Sliver Beneath Skin' ponder the Universe via the Jade Eye of seeing and the Bone Location Wheel. meanwhile, a new student known as 'Derek' rests, having journeyed from a land far, far away....




Samurai SETI Research Station. Making the world safe for people who fight in slow motion, and whose lips don't quite move in synch with their words...

NANOWRIMO: MORE THAN HALF WAY THROUGH, AND WHAT HAVE I GOT?

A lot of catching up to do, that's what.

My problem is, I've spent quite a lot of the month setting events up so that other people can reach their word counts. No complaints: it's my job, and I get paid quite nicely to do it. But my own word count has suffered while I do so.

My default attitude to such setbacks is, well, fairly egocentric: I may not have written (insert correct number) of words, but the ones I have written are saleable. I'd rather have (pathetic total I've managed to reach) saleable words than (much larger total I should have reached by now) shit ones. When you're as good as I am, you don't need to rush. Just get the job done right. 

I mentioned the egocentric bit, right?

This attitude, of course, works if you're sure the ones you've written will sell. Otherwise, you do kind of come across like the guy who boasts about having umpty million sales without mentioning that you've sold half of them to yourself, or that bloke at the other end of the bar with the bomber jacket and doberman pinscher talking about what a stud he is, but his big 4 wheel drive seems suspiciously empty of girlfriend.... 

I, of course, have a magnificent track record when it comes to novels. You'll remember my stunning debut.... uh.... and of course, who could forget the breakthrough trilogy, The.... ummm... Chronicles? Then of course..... oh, all right.

Back to the word mines.

If anybody sees my doberman pinscher, tell him to come home. I'm lonely, and I don't like the dark.




 
So far, so... far.

FIRST OPEN ROBOT AUTHORS ANNOUNCED

Congratulations to Cassandra Rose Clarke and Lee Collins, the first authors from the Angry Robot Open Submission Month to be announced as having signed contract with the publisher. Cassandra and Lee's books sound, well, ominously awesome.

You can read the full announcement here. Angry Robot editor Lee Harris has promised more announcements soon, so keep your ears to the, uh, internet?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

IT'S NOT A KID'S TOY IF YOU CAN MAKE IT COMPETITIVE

You'd probably be surprised to hear it, but there aren't that many places in Mandurah for a fat middle-aged man to hang out with others and explore his hobby in a relaxed social setting if his hobby happens to be a kid's toy like Lego.

There's probably not many places to go if your hobby is sodomising kittens, either, but hey, I zigged instead of zagged and went with Lego.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered the world of LUGS. Lego User Groups, organisations of AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) who do just that. Get together and do the Lego thing, not the kitten thing. Forget the kitten thing. Jeez. Sorry I even brought it up.

So I get in touch. I'm just getting back into the hobby, I've seen some of your stuff on the net-- and bugger me, the stuff this group does is astonishing-- I'd like to come up and find out what you're all about. After a while, I get a reply. I can't have been the only one asking, because it's a form reply.

They've got a new HQ, and they'd be interested in a small selection of new members. Provided you build to a high enough standard. Please send us some images of your MOCs so we can decide if you're good enough.

Really.

I know I'm a crazy, wacky old curmudgeon, but my impression of Lego was that it was a kids toy, something adults could enjoy and hey, if you look at guys like Nathan Sawaya, blow the minds of the world with. But exclusionary? I'd rather sit on the floor with my kids and build spaceships and open air cafes than try to persuade someone that I'm good enough to play in their clubhouse. I stopped paying that shit the last time I grew out of Lego. I just want somewhere to play with like minded PALS.

A pal of mine is a member of MUGS, the Melbourne Lego user group. She's trying to persuade me to start my own LUG: the region is big enough to support another group, and I'd prefer not to have to travel to Perth  just to play with others. Lyn will let me think about it if I get her a chihuahua. You know what I think about dogs, right? Does the fact I'm actually thinking about letting her have one explain my feelings on the subject?

High enough standard.

MandUGS? ManUGS? PUGS? SPUGS?......


THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING. MINUS ONE.

So I turned 41 two days ago. And it probably says a lot about the state of mind that I find myself in these days that this year's present of choice was, you guessed it, Lego.

Two very cool kits made it into my collection: the fun-to-build and adaptable Creator Log Cabin, with three different designs of varying degrees of difficulty and a whole host of blocks, plates, roof slopes and basic elements that make me itchy to play about with architectural designs. And with $50 from my father and stepmother, I stepped out to the shops and came home with the mad-as-a-mad-thing Space Truck Getaway set from the Space Police III series, a bunch of sets I love for their insane space-punk look, plethora of speciality parts, and alien minifigs that were obviously the result of the designers getting a little too smashed at a Friday sundowner one week and seeing what they could get past the bosses.

They're also all but off the shelves in my lonely corner of the world. I got lucky with this one because I managed to find it tucked down in between shelving units at my local Toyworld, where it had obviously been knocked off, slipped down, and become both stuck and forgotten over time. That, my friends, is what we call a score :)

Then out of nowhere, Luscious Lyn's best friend Catherine came over to attend the Nanowrimo Night of Writing Dangerously event I had organised for last night, and presented me with the enormous Alien Invasion Mothership, with another bucketful of fun specialty parts including the much-wanted by Connor Lime Clinger, so it was happy building time all round!

My darling, naturally, both went against the general theme and provided me with the most individually desired gift. It's our little ritual to provide each other with a book, and The Monster's Corner is one that prompted instant lust when stumbled upon in a bookshop recently: how could you not want it once you spy that cover?

Straight to the top of my reading pile, baby! :))

41 isn't any different to 40, of course, and a birthday really isn't any different to any other day of the week, especially if you don't get the day off work to laze about and pretend you're King of the House. But this year it's been an indicator, and high watermark, of big changes in my way of life. In the weeks leading up to it I've entered into a quantum change in writing direction, engaging an agent and pretty much completing the switch from short story writer to novelist; I've embarked on a series of projects that will lead me into a new sphere of professional work; and I've re-engaged with a childhood pleasure that's given me an outlet that I can pursue purely for fun's sake-- writing might be my major outlet, and it might be fun, but it's been several years since I've approached any writing with 'just fun' in mind. I'm a writer. I sell what I write. It's always a business.-- I joke about my sudden Lego addiction, and my family jokes with me, but their willingness to indulge me and gift me with sets and time to piggle about with them show they understand the pleasure I'm deriving from it.

My family made my birthday special, as they always do, but it's the acceptance and indulgence they afford me that keeps me smiling.


THE LAST DANGEROUS CARROT: ANGELA SLATTER


So this is it: the final entry in my Treacherous Carrots series of guest blogs. A massive tilt of the glass to everyone who came along with me on this. Here's hoping you've enjoyed what you've read. But don't leave just yet, not until you've read what Angela has to say. And when it comes to the subject of art, she should know: Her work has appeared Dreaming AgainStrange Tales II IIILady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletA Book of HorrorsMammoth Book of New Horror #22, and Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011. She authored two collections in pretty bloody quick order last year-- Sourdough & Other Stories (Tartarus Press, UK), was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, and The Girl with No Hands & Other Tales (Ticonderoga Publications), won the 2011 Aurealis Award for Best Collection. and she's got yet another one coming out soon: Midnight and Moonshine, a collaboration with fellow carrot Lisa L Hannett, will soon be published by Ticonderoga. Their story “The February Dragon”, won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 2011. She also finds time to run her own wide-ranging and always fascinating blog right about here

So here we are. One more carrot before bedtime.

---



The topic assigned by the boss of the blog is ‘The writer as artist’ and I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now, in between other time-consuming and annoying activities (PhD, day job, housework, etc). And it’s been making me grumpy because I can’t put my finger on a specific answer to the implied question. It’s just given me a lot more questions, with no answers.
            Where’s art come from?     
            Is it art just because I say it is?
            Is it not art just because I don’t like it?
            Is it only art only if paint is involved?
            How can words be art?
            Who judges its value, gives a gold star, a mark out of ten?
Is art simply doing something for the sake of doing something?
            If my marks from the Australia Council are low, does it mean I’m a bad writer, a bad artist, no matter how many awards I might win during my career?
            And what’s with this deathless prose gig?
Just because a lot of people buy a book  – just because it’s popular – does that make it ‘art’ regardless of grammar and spelling shortfalls and plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon?
Is art only something no one asked for in the first place? And if it’s something no one asked for in the first place, is it fair to expect to be paid for it?
            And I’ve been wondering, do we ever sit down and think before we write ‘Today I’m going to commit art’?
            I’m a writer who doesn’t even think about things like themes. I don’t think ‘I want to achieve blah with this story’. I just write – it’s brain-vomit all over the page (which begs the question: can vomit be art?). I’m not a tidy, organised writer – I don’t always know how a story is going to end, and sometimes even when I think I do know how it’s going to end I find out I’m wrong at the – well, end.
            Sometimes I know the end but am completely in the dark about the beginning. Sometimes I need to spend ages talking to the main character and coaxing information out of her/him, just so I can find out how the tale starts.
If I’m committing art, it’s unconscious. Writing for me is irresistible – if the urge hits then notes must be made no matter what else I may be doing. This can make boring meetings interesting – ‘What are you writing, Angela?’ – and family gatherings strange – ‘Where is she? Oh, no, she’s writing again.’ At lunch yesterday I was describing the ‘Brisneyland by Night’ novels to my parents, who rolled their eyes and managed to say simultaneously ‘She’s your daughter!’
So a writer, like a prophet, knows no respect. We must get used to it.
The first time my Significant Other witnessed an ‘art attack’ he was somewhat perplexed – understandably, seeing as how I leapt off the couch, shouting ‘Of course! Bleeding the cat!’ and then galloped to the study to write down the story notes before the spark died (and sanity took its place). My stories begin with a first sentence ... or an image in my head ... or they’re set off by the words of a song ... or by looking at a painting or sculpture or drawing ... or just by looking at something in a different way and thinking ‘what if?’
Maybe that’s where art comes from: from asking ‘what if?’ when everyone else is seeing what’s obvious. When everyone else is being obediently blind to possibilities. Maybe art is seeing what’s hidden, what’s possible, what’s potential. Maybe it’s writing that questions the status quo, that points fingers, that laughs when everyone’s telling the emperor he looks fabulous in his see-through pantaloons.
Thinking about the writer as artist makes me nervous because then it makes me afraid that picking apart art is like picking apart creativity in general – in playing around in the innards of something to see what makes it tick you risk breaking the very ineffability of the thing. When you utter the secret name of something, it’s no longer a secret and it loses it power – just ask Rumplestiltskin. And always remember: a frog never comes out of a dissection well.
When I read something I want its effort and artistry to be invisible. I don’t want the writer to draw my attention to how they’ve created an effect – if I’m reading to simply enjoy the work, I really don’t want signposts that say ‘Look how clever I am’. Pointing out the magic tends to make it very ordinary indeed. It’s like saying ‘Look! The angels are on wires!’ Equally, I don’t want to see clunky writing where the seams and stitches are there for all to see. I want the ‘art’ to appear seamless and whole. If I’m reading something specifically to examine the craft, then I am reading in a different way to reading for pleasure – I’m looking for the nuts and bolts another writer has used. Their art is how they have hidden these things.
As a writer, the art for me lies in what I hide and what I show – indeed, what can I show when I’m hiding something else. And what can I hide when I’m showing something again. So here, the writer as artist is the magician, the con wo/man, the trickster. The art is in the sleight of hand; the art of the oblique.
If pushed, I think the art lies in the spark – that moment when you’re writing for yourself alone, when there’s no thought of an audience or possible sales. I think art lies in the unfolding of the story, the rush of inspiration, the chatter of all the voices that live in your head and don’t require medication. Later, there is editing, polishing. Later, there is an audience. I think the moment of true, pure, primeval art lies in the moment of ‘what if?’



Sunday, November 06, 2011

PENULTIMATE CARROT: LISA HANNETT

Lisa L Hannett is quirky, highly talented, and living in Adelaide -- city of churches, bizarre murders and pie floaters -- so you know she knows all about suffering for your art. Her short stories have been published in venues including Clarkesworld MagazineFantasy Magazine, Weird TalesChiZine, ShimmerElectric VelocipedeTesseracts 14, and Ann & Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, and she provided a creepy-as-all-fuck little gem for my issue of Midnight Echo to boot. The February Dragon, co-authored with upcoming carrotter Angela Slatter, won the 'Best Fantasy' Aurealis Award in 2010, so you know she's got chops. 

Her first collection of short stories, Bluegrass Symphony, was published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2011. Midnight and Moonshine, a second collection co-authored with Angela Slatter, will be published in 2012. You can find her online at http://lisahannett.com.





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In February 1880, William Morris delivered a lecture before the Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design, which was later published in a book called Hopes and Fears for Art. It was during this public lecture, Morris’s first, that the philosophy driving the Arts & Crafts movement was famously summarised. “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody,” Morris declared, “this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
Replace ‘houses’ with ‘writing’ and now read that sentence aloud.
What you’ve just heard is the mantra that whispers through my mind every time I start writing a story — and which bludgeons me when I go to read one.
There are more than enough mundane sentences in our world, and we’re bombarded by them relentlessly. Work emails, text messages, TV commercials, ads on bus shelters, misspelled restaurant menus, tax forms, university websites, cereal boxes, DVD cases, instruction manuals, radio announcements, Woolworths flyers… Everywhere, everywhere, words. They all communicate messages to their readers, and most serve a purpose — they do, in other words, what it says on the can — but though they get us semantically from A to B, few people would classify these pieces of writing as Art (with a capital ‘A’).
It isn’t a writer’s job to merely get their readers from A to B, to facilitate their journey from plot point to plot point, from page one to page three hundred and seven. Writers have certainly made a contract with readers that they will do these things — they will provide, to the best of their ability, a story worth spending precious hours of our lives reading — but there is no clause in this contract that states, “I, the Writer, promise to make you, the Reader, forget that you are involved in an Act of Literature.”
Writers compose. Writers conjure. Writers create. These are all words I associate with Art; so my hope, when I pick up a book, is to find Art trapped between its covers. My hope is to spend a few minutes, hours, days submerged in useful beauty.
Beautiful writing can’t be superfluous — long before Shakespeare’s time we’ve been wary of tales “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” — so it must serve a purpose in the story. It must give us extra insight into the characters, their worlds, their plights. But being useful does not preclude being beautiful: a well-crafted phrase, a symbolic image, a perfect metaphor can convey emotion or give us a sense of place far more effectively than half a dozen workaday sentences. In ‘The Wings of Mister Wilhelm’, Theodora Goss could’ve said “The girl was a fine seamstress” but instead we learn that she “could make stitches a spider would be proud of” and so we understand the delicacy of these stitches, how small they are, how many hours the girl would’ve spent practising her craft. Webs and spiders and fine gossamer thread also conjure up images of fairies and Queen Mab and dresses made of spidersilk — all of which add to the magical tone of this story.
When we read “He wants the redness to spill from him like a scent” in the ‘Cranberry Creamed Honey’ entry of Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month, we don’t merely imagine blood spilling from veins, but also the cranberries from the story’s title, crushed and juicy; rich garnet tones and dark forests filled with fruit; love, but equally, danger. This image not only suits the tone of the piece — it also helps to set it.
It might not be surprising that these two authors have both earned critical acclaim as poets — a particular breed of artist that agonises over word choice more acutely than most. The most useful aspect of this beautiful writing is that it succinctly and simultaneously conveys many possible meanings; it slows the reading process just enough to allow readers to bathe in the richness of words.
You needn’t be a poet to convey multiple meanings so effectively. In ‘Dradin, In Love’, Jeff VanderMeer could’ve simply said that Dradin looked out his window at a humid city at night, a sensual city —  a City of Saints and Madmen, if you will — and all of these descriptions would have given us some idea of the protagonist’s state of mind. But instead, he tells us that the city “lay inside the cupped hands of a valley veined with tributaries of the Moth. It was there that ordinary people slept and dreamt not of jungles and humidity and the lust that fed and starved men’s hearts, but of quiet walks under the stars and milk-fat kittens and the gentle hum of wind…” Veins and hands cupped and humidity and lust and people sleeping all convey sensuality and suffocating closeness and tactility and the heat-fever of love, without having to say it in so many words. And if “ordinary people” spend their nights dreaming sweet, milk-fat kitten dreams, then what does that tell us about Dradin, whose insomnia keeps him awake and staring, voyeuristically, out over the slumbering city?
These symbols, similes, metaphors, clever turns-of-phrase, speak to us in a way that straightforward prose isn’t designed to — they speak straight to that wistful, intangible part of ourselves that weeps at the sound of an orchestral swell, or gets goosebumps at the sight of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. This type of writing may not get us to point B without travelling to M and X and Z first, but we need this type of Art just as much as we need an outlet for escape into wondrous worlds. The function of this beauty is to take us out of the realm of everyday language, and to remind us of the mind-blowing power of fine words.
My fear is that too many writers, genre or otherwise, are forced to sacrifice beauty for productivity. Publishing is a competitive business; there are more writers, more editors, more stories out there than a whole world of readers can possibly get to know in one lifetime. People aren’t paid sufficiently for art, they are paid for product. Churn out a series of shit books about sparkly vampires and you’ll likely be able to buy ten houses to fill with Morris’ beautiful things; but write a dozen near-perfect award-winning stories in a decade (รก la Ted Chiang) and you’ll probably spend more time working in a carpeted grey office cubicle than you will be surrounded by Arts & Crafts treasures. (But a particular shade of grey can offer a neutral backdrop upon which many fine writers, often masquerading as office clerks, have hung colourful daydreams. And come nightfall these reveries are transformed into awesome books…)
The Romantic in me wishes writers could survive on beauty alone. The writer in me not only wants but needs to be inspired and encouraged by fine literary art, by the perpetual magic of words. The pragmatist in me would love it if we were able to find a balance between commercial success and artistry, productivity and grandeur. Hmmmm…. Beauty and financial stability… What could be more useful than that?

NANO: END OF THE FIRST WEEKEND

So far, so good Corpse-Rat lovers, and yes I know how bad that sounds, but think of the fun that's going to cause on the search engines :)

It's been one hell of a disrupted weekend: on Friday we moved the Teen Family into their new digs across town, and on Saturday morning moved our son back after a split-up that can only be described as 'messy', although 'used and betrayed' also springs to mind. Much comfort and support has been offered, and much future will now hopefully be grasped with both hands.

But amongst it all, I've managed to get some keyboard time, and as always seems to be the case when I push the writing processes a little harder than they might be ready for, subplots have revealed themselves with startling regularity. One of the hard parts of writing a sequel-- a task I've only attempted with the Father Muerte short stories-- is trying to creating the core of what made the original work without repeating yourself in either action, theme, or consequence. Unless, of course, you're Piers Anthony, in which case, only the names have been changed to protect the gullible....

But progress it does, and in a way that's keeping me entertained. Let's hope that continues. For at least another 89 000 words, anyway...



 

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

NANOWRIMO DAY ONE

You know how it is when you're all prepared to spend a month writing 50 000 words of a novel, and you have a cool title and a kinda-sorta-as-much-as-you-ever-have idea of, if not how the whole thing is going to go, well, at least kinda-sorta-as-much-as-you-ever-have how the thing is going to start, right?

And you know how you wake up on day one of the month, knowing you need to write at least 1667 words of this idea today, and back that up tomorrow, and the day after and so on, and the little man who lives at the back of your mind shows up in his coat and hat, carrying a suitcase, and posts a sticky note on the back of your eyes that says simply "Fuck you, buddy, you're on your own."?

Sigh.

Goodbye The Sin-Eater's Lonely Children. Hello Corpse-Rat King: Rising Dead.

I wasn't going to write a sequel. I really wasn't. But, you know, I got me an agent, and I had the idea kicking about, and it escalates really nicely from the first book.....

Nanowrimo day one:



1836 / 50000 (3.67%)

Monday, October 31, 2011

NEWS. GOOD NEWS.

As of this week, I have an agent :)

I am now represented by Richard Henshaw, of the Richard Henshaw Agency.

I hope you know what you're doing :)

PLENTY OF TIME BEFORE NANO STARTS AGAIN... OH, SHIT.

So Nanowrimo officially starts in 4 hours and 26 minutes.

shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shitshit shit shit shit shit shitshit shit shit shit shit shit.

See, much of my day job these past few weeks has involved getting a literary programme up and running to coincide with Nanowrimo. And I've done, if I may say so myself, a pretty damn good job: Juliet Marillier is coming down to give two Master Classes; Anna Jacobs and Bevan McGuiness will be presiding over a writing marathon with over 20 sponsors providing prizes and promotional material to give away; I've got regular write-ins happening; and if all goes to plan I'll be announcing a new poetry competition, judged by Maureen Sexton,  to tie in with one of our major sculpture exhibitions. All in all, it's looking like liter-a-frikkin-palooza.

Only problem is, I've done sod-all preparation of my own.

I've never headed into a Nano with anything less than a firm idea of where I'll be in 50K time: whether it be a project I was already 10 000 words into (Corpse-Rat King), or one involving characters I'd worked with 4 times before and a couple of thousand words of notes I'd accumulated over six years of thinking about the plot (Father Muerte & The Divine), I've always known exactly what was likely to happen, where I was going, and where I expected to be at the end of the month.

This time, I have a title and the opening of the first scene.

Wish me luck.

TREACHEROUS CARROTS: HELEN VENN

Helen Venn is one of the loveliest ladies in writing, and for a variety of reasons, one of the bravest SF people I've met, reasons which include being utterly willing to stand up and call bullshit on anybody in the middle of an illogical or disagreeable rant. Including me on more than once occasion. I love her combination of gentility and steel, the best example of which occurred during Clarion South when, during a patented Battersby diatribe on the difference between 'jet fighters' and 'bus drivers' she very calmly waited for a break in the action and firmly declared "I like being a bus driver." She's fabulous, as you can discover at her blog and the Egoboo collective, but she never set out to write SF. She began writing literary short stories and poems. Now, no matter how hard she tries, she ends up with speculative fiction.
She has placed in various competitions (most recently a finalist in the first Quarter of Writers of the Future). She attended Clarion South in 2007 and was an Emerging Writer in Residence at Tom Collins House Writers’ Centre in 2009. She is currently working on her second novel. 


---







I come from a family of artists. One brother is a textile artist, another dabbles in metal sculpture and my niece is a professional water colourist mostly painting portraits. Going back further I had a great uncle who professionally created exquisite jewellery. Hell, I even married into a family of artists. My father-in-law was a talented amateur landscape artist. You'd think some of it would have rubbed off on me but no. As far as the visual arts go anything I produce is derivative and, let's face it, not very exciting, so I really haven't ever thought of myself as an artist. Until now.

Lee's question has had me thinking about my writing in a way I had not before. I've always loved words and what they are capable of.  I taught myself to read before I went to school partly because words fascinated me and partly because they opened up a whole different world to me. As a seven and eight year old I used to sit on the living room floor (because the giant one volume dictionary that stood on the bottom shelf of the bookcase was too heavy to lift) and read it, opening pages at random for the joy of learning new words. i still get waylaid by new words in a thesaurus whenever I venture into one to the point that, unless I have time to indulge myself, I now use on-line versions  or I'll find myself hours later wandering through words that are fascinating but have no connection to what I was looking for.

All this is a round about way of saying that, although words always fascinated me, it took me a long while to realise that, yes, I am an artist in my own way. Unlike all those other artists in my family I use words to create my art. I see myself primarily as a story teller - someone who takes words and melds and crafts them into something that is bigger than its individual parts. Those words (whatever their form they are used in - and my writing ranges from fiction, both short and long, poetry, reviews, blogging, articles and non-fiction) are my paints, the word processing system I'm using - might be a pen or a computer. It doesn't matter  - is my paint brush or palette knife and the paper or computer screen they end up on is my canvas.

This applies to all writers to one degree or another. When I look at the best writers I am struck by the fact that, within the structure of a good story, they do much more. They play with language, stretching it and using it to create images that are as tangible as those on canvas. They don't set out to preach but they do present the reader with ideas. They explore important issues in society and make us think about them. The best stories will stay in our memories long after we've finished them and this is characteristic of all art. It makes us think and expands our knowledge of ourselves, both as individuals and as a human being and this is true of all art.
It speaks to the mind and the heart. It may challenge, delight, infuriate or fascinate us. It doesn't matter which emotion it provokes, as long as it provokes one. It's this quality that defines art and it's as true of writing as any of the other arts.

So yes, I can finally acknowledge I am an artist.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

AND I SHALL CALL HIM.... MINIMOC

A teensy-tiny little MOC I absent-mindedly piggled together last night while watching The Deadly Assassin. 7 pieces each, which is my mini-est mini so far.


First one to call out "Walllllll-eeee" gets a pair of binoculars in the bathers area....


I think they're kind of cute. They're also symptomatic of the problems associated with keeping 6000 pieces of LEGO in one big tub but not wanting to sort it all out into separate boxes because you don't want to a) stifle the kids' creativity and b) sort the bloody things back into separate boxes when the kids invariably mix them up.

If you don't want to make a massive clatter shifting plates large pieces around because you're trying to watch your show, this is the sort of thing you end up with.

But I do think they're kind of cute.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

RORY WILLIAMS: HARD AS FUCK

As if anybody ever needed proof that Rory is rapidly becoming the Best Companion Ever (tm):

sci fi fantasy - Rory Williams Facts
see more

Smurched from Cheeseburger.com. Authorised by the first precepts of Universal Truth.

GET ONE IN YA!

Anywhere But Earth, which features my story At The End There Was a Man, is now available from the Coeur De Lion online store.

29 stories of humanity's experiences of, well, anywhere but Earth, featuring the likes of Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, Robert Hood and Jason Fischer, and clocking in at a spine-bending 728 pages, this is going to be the biggest anthology released in Australia this year. Quite literally.

Yon Liney Uppey:

Calie Voorhis-- Murmer 
Cat Sparks-- Beautiful
Simon Petrie-- Hatchway 
Lee Battersby-- At the End There Was a Man 
Alan Baxter-- Unexpected Launch
Richard Harland-- An Exhibition of the Plague 
Robert N Stephenson-- Rains of la Strange 
Liz Argall-- Maia Blue is Going Home 
Chris McMahon-- Memories of Mars 
CJ Paget-- Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings 
Penelope Love-- SIBO 
Donna Maree Hanson-- Beneath the Floating City
Erin E Stocks-- Lisse
William RD Wood-- Deuteronomy 
Robert Hood-- Desert Madonna 
Steve de Beer-- Psi World 
Damon Shaw-- Continuity 
Wendy Waring-- Alien Tears 
Patty Jansen-- Poor Man’s Travel 
Jason Fischer-- Eating Gnashdal 
Kim Westwood-- By Any Other Name 
Brendan Duffy-- Space Girl Blues 
TF Davenport-- Oak with the Left Hand 
Sean McMullen-- Spacebook 
Margo Lanagan-- Yon Horned Moon 
Mark Rossiter-- The Caretaker 
Jason Nahrung-- Messiah on the Rock 
Angela Ambroz-- Pyaar Kiya
 Steve Cameron-- So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper

You know you want one. No more talking. Just go.