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.

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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:



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