Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Avengers vs Dark Knight Rises: Superhero Smackdown!

Warning: This is really just me rambling and processing my thoughts after being wowed by the two movies, rather than a review. And there could be some SPOILERS in there so proceed with caution.

As an unabashed DC fanboy, I have to admit a certain degree of envy as I’ve watched Marvel’s movie strategy unfold. Despite a few hurdles, it has had something DC have generally lacked – a sense that they actually know what they are doing! The shining exception has been the Batman movies helmed by Christopher Nolan. So, it was a great deal of anticipation that I waited to see whether the final Batman movie could possibly compete with Avengers, which completely blew me away. The short answer is that it couldn’t. Not that it wasn’t incredible, it’s just that they are completely different sorts of movies and it would be like comparing apples and oranges.

Now, this might seem a little odd, considering that they are both ostensibly super hero movies, but they represent two distinct types, and the pinnacle of those at that. I am going to cheat a little though, and discuss the Batman trilogy as a whole because I think that is the only way to approach it. Even though Avengers benefits hugely from watching the movies leading up to it, and one has to admire the coherence of Marvel’s vision, at a pinch you could watch it cold and still thoroughly enjoy it.

The Avengers is very much a spectacle movie. It’s built around its stunning special effects and the sheer scale of the mayhem. Fortunately, the CGI doesn’t over power the movie as has been the case in too many other super hero films. That’s not to say that the acting is not of an extremely high quality, it’s an excellent cast with lots of strong performances and the chemistry is delightful, and we do get a look at what makes the character’s tick. But, it is very much about seeing how many things they can break and that’s what makes it so fun.

The movie is immediately identifiable as a Joss Whedon work, with his trademark snappy banter, and ability to mix humour and actions without being ham fisted about it. The Hulk was the surprise package to me, there were quite a few moments when the whole cinema was laughing with genuine humour. George Lucas should take note, that is how you do comedic relief! I bet that the studio didn’t pick that the Hulk would be so popular, especially given his previous track record.

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Future Trends – eBooks and bookstores

There is a great discussion going on at the Greylands eBook Launch site, sparked by an excellent guest post by Paul Collins.

These are scary times for writers and publishers. Whereas it’s never been easier to get published, conversely it’s never been harder to sell. This great divide is expanding exponentially. Take a look at the Al Gore demonstration at Mike Matas: A next-generation digital book. All of this seemed pretty whiz-bang a year ago. Now my smart phone can do most this.
 
The Great Divide Paradox is easily explained.
 
Major publishers are down-sizing, and guess who goes first? The B-list. With fewer staff, publishers are publishing fewer books. Perhaps only the best-sellers will enjoy print books from the majors with no or little mid-list. It does make you wonder where publishers will find the next generation of best selling authors. They’ll undoubtedly get some from best-selling self-publishers, such as the recent EL James (50 Shades of Grey) and of course this has been happening for a while – Matthew Reilly (Contest) springs to mind. And there will be a proliferation of these authors with the availability of lulu.com, Lightning Source, etc. Even Dymocks has a platform for vanity press at dpublishing.com. I think the self-publisher has replaced the agent for assessing the slush pile for major publishers.

It’s not just the article itself that is worth a read, the discussion below the comment line is well informed and thought provoking too. Anyone with an interest in the subject should check it out.

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Wednesday Writers: Tracie McBride

Australia has a long and glorious tradition of – how shall we put this – adopting New Zealanders as our own. Sometimes, one can’t help but feel that we got the raw end of the deal and that our Kiwi cousins are quietly sniggering to themselves after off loading undesirables on us, see Russell Crowe for an example. But, more often, we benefit immeasurably from the export and end up with a Phar Lap. Tracie McBride falls squarely in the latter category. A talented short story writer, her short fiction is creepy and haunting and will make you very uncomfortable and her “little collection of short stories” as she calls it is one of the best investments of time and money you will make. And, not content to stop there she is also trying her hand at publishing! *sigh* The problem with Wednesday Writers is that my guests always make me feel like an underacheiver!

Meet The Local Authors (How I felt the fear and did it anyway)

When David invited me to contribute a post to his Wednesday Writers series, I went through an emotional process that is common for me. First, blind optimism – “Sure! I can do that! I’d be happy to do that!” Then, after looking at all the accomplished and eloquent Wednesday Writers who had gone before me, came crushing self-doubt and despair – “Waaaah! I can’t do this!” And finally came a grim, fatalistic determination – “Well, I said I would do it, so now I’ll just have to get on with it.”

I went through the same process when I attended a Meet the Local Author session at my local library recently as part of their annual Booklovers Festival. I saw the flyer, and thought, “I’m local. And I write stuff. Even got a book to prove it.” So I signed up. About an hour out from the event, I got the jitters. Aside from the venue and the time, I knew nothing about what to expect. What if there were so many accomplished authors there that my little collection of short stories published by a start-up small press was laughingly dismissed? Or worse, what if I were the only author to attend and wound up sitting on a table by myself? I briefly considered not going. But no – I had put my name on the List. And Lists are Sacred. I put on my Big Girl Panties and my best nervous smile and got on down there.

Upon arrival, the librarian gently herded me in the direction of the Local Authors table and introduced me to fellow author Daniela Zannoni. Daniela had arrived early and set up. She had flyers and posters. Her book “My Mother’s Memories (The Successes and Tragedies of An Italian Migrant Family)” was lovingly displayed on gilt book stands in two different editions, English and Italian. I was duly intimidated. I laid out my half dozen copies of “Ghosts Can Bleed” at the other end of the table and tried to look halfway competent.

For a while there it looked like Daniela and I were going to be the only authors in attendance. Then along came Arthur Yong. Before coming to Australia from Malaysia, Arthur Yong was a biochemist (let’s just ratchet up the intimidation factor a little bit more…) Unlike Daniela and me, Arthur didn’t have a stack of books for library patrons to peruse; the librarian found his book on the shelves and brought it over to display between ours. It is a handsome A4-sized volume entitled “Chinese Settlement in Whittlesea” which tells the story of sixteen different Chinese migrants and descendants of migrants living in the Whittlesea region of Melbourne. On the surface, the niche market sounds extremely small. And indeed, Arthur doesn’t even think in terms of ‘market’ for his book; when I asked him where and how he sells his book, he looked surprised and said, “I don’t. I got a grant to write and print it, so I just give it away.”

It was an interesting concept which, as a genre fiction writer, I had never considered before. Of course, I had heard of writers obtaining literary grants to complete works of fiction, but they generally went on to sell the book they’d been paid to write, and it got me thinking about the nature of the capitalist model for book publishing and marketing versus a model of literary patronage. In any case, after leafing through Arthur’s book and having to force myself to put it down lest I appear rude for reading instead of talking to people, I thought it would be of interest to a much wider audience than the handful of local libraries, historians and contributors to the book to whom he had gifted a copy.

The fourth author to join our group was Ian B G Burns, a prolific author and self-publisher, mostly of historical children’s novels set in Australia. With Ian I felt on more familiar ground as we discussed the various merits of Smashwords, Lulu and Createspace and the grave limitations of Spellcheck. Being a third-generation author, Ian has an impressive pedigree, but by this point I’d run out of emotional energy to be intimidated and had settled into enjoying the company of fellow wordsmiths. My usual writers’ social network consists primarily of independent genre fiction writers, so it was refreshing to learn of the experiences and journeys of other local writers.

And how did the afternoon rate as a promotional activity? The vast majority of library patrons avoided us in droves, being too engrossed in their free internet access (the librarian wryly commented that they could probably get rid of all the books and just run an internet café, and the numbers coming through the door would not change). But about halfway through the afternoon a visibly nervous young woman (even more nervous than me!) approached our table and introduced herself. She ran a programme at a local high school for creative writers, and would any of us like to come along and talk to the kids and maybe run a couple of workshops?

“Sure!” I said. “I have kids. I write stuff. I can do that. I’d be happy to do that!”

“By the way,” she said, “I have a budget, so I can pay you.”

“Money?” I said. “You’ll give me money to do it? Oh, I never even thought of that…”

Arthur Yong invited us all to be interviewed on his local – very local – radio show that broadcast at 10.30pm on a Friday night.

“Sure!” I said. “I can talk. I write stuff…”

Expect in a couple of weeks’ time as I make good on all these promises to hear lots of “Waaah! I can’t do this!” swiftly followed by mutterings of, “I said I would, so now I have to.”

And the fourth and final reaction – “I’m really glad I did that. Imagine what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t.”

Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 80 print and electronic publications, including Horror Library Vols 4 and 5, Dead Red Heart, Phobophobia and Horror for Good. Her debut collection Ghosts Can Bleed contains much of the work that earned her a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2008.  She helps to wrangle slush for Dark Moon Digest and is the vice president of Dark Continents Publishing.  She welcomes visitors to her blog at http://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com/

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A Conversational Journey through New Who – Spearhead from Space!

As we prepare to start on the next season of Doctor Who in our conversational review series, we thought we would do something different and check an episode of Classic Who. We made a list of epsiodes worth looking at, and Tansy suggested “Spearhead from Space”. There were a number of reasons it seemed a great start, it is the first appearance of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, was intended as a mini reboot of the series and, very importantly, features Caroline John as Liz Shaw (some of you may be aware that, sadly, she passed away this year).

And, to make it even more different, we decided to try our hand at podcasting! This was my first experience, and rather nerve wracking, but we got through it. I am not game to listen to my babbling, so you will have to let me know how I went.

We had a lot of fun, and hopefully you will enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed making it. You can listen from the Podbean site, or download in iTunes (search The Book Nut or “Doctor Who in Conversation”). A big thanks to Andrew Finch for producing it for us!

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Wednesday Writers: Joanne Anderton

The author of an extremely well received, and award nominated, first novel (with an equally strong follow up!), and a writer of delightfully crafted short fiction, Jo Anderton could be forgiven for letting things go to her head a little – especially after walking away with a well deserved Ditmar for Best New Talent. Instead, she remains one of the nicest and humblest people imaginable. I was fortunate enough to have Jo appear on my blog earlier this year, as part of our conversational review of Blink, and I am delighted to welcome her back to talk about a very practical aspect of writing!

DON’T stick your butt in that chair!

I’ve always been hesitant to give writing advice. Firstly, because who am I to offer any? I’m still trying to work out how this whole writing thing works. Anytime I actually think I understand it, the rug gets swept out from under me and I’m back at the beginning! So what could I possibly offer, except for a confused shrug of the shoulders? Secondly, there’s already a lot of writing advice out there. Seriously, the internet is bulging at the seams with it. Surely I shouldn’t try to add to all the noise.

But, you know, I think I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Writing advice isn’t about a group of sparkly professionals dictating a concrete set of rules, or throwing the magic crumbs of ‘this is how to get published and be generally awesome’ for the rest of us to fight over. Writing advice is all about the shared experience. Each writer travels their own journey, and every path is different. We’ve all got our own set of pitfalls, successes, and monsters off the beaten path. And by sharing them, we learn that we’re not alone, and that there is no right or wrong, and that we can do this, all of us, together.

So, this is my little piece of writing advice for the day: DON’T sit your butt down in that chair!

‘What?’ I hear you say. (Well, I imagine you’re saying because it fits neatly with my internal narrative here… just go along with me, ok?) ‘But that goes against one of the shiny golden core writing rules — sit in that chair and write! How can I not do that? That’s what being a writer is all about!’

And here is where I admit to being a little triksy, because what I really mean to say is — don’t sit your butt in that chair ALL THE TIME.

A writer writes, this is true. And when I was but a young thing, all dazzled by the advice of those shiny, ‘real’ authors who knew so much better than me, I took this to heart. A writer writes. They sit down at that desk and they type, and they type and they type some more. But, you know, there’s a key part missing in this equation. They also get up OUT of that chair and move around.

You know why? Because there is nothing more upsetting than wanting to write but being unable to because you are in too much pain.

I have a dodgy back. This is not solely due to my adherence to the sit down and write doctrine. This is a combination of lots of things, including my sedentary hobbies, bad posture habits, and years of hating exercise and doing everything in my power to avoid it. But all of these, added to the failure I felt if I dared get up out of the chair instead of making words, led to a persistent injury.

It starts with a niggle and a tightening around the lower back. It inches up to the shoulders and neck. And eventually, it’s hip pain too, and leg, and then the sciatic nerve kicks in and it’s all over. At its worst, I can’t do anything except lie face down on the floor and engage the services of god’s gift to mankind — the heat pack. This makes typing difficult, to say the least. It can be heartbreaking, when you’re in the middle of a story that’s working — you know that feeling — when the story is everything and everyone and the world can just piss off thank you very much, all that matters is the invisible people in your head. When you can’t do that, when you have to stop, well, that hurts too, in its own way.

You know what, I’m not alone. I’m also very lucky. I know so many writers who suffer their own writing-related injuries. Backs, necks, shoulders, arms. It’s a common theme. But I’m lucky, because I can treat my injury, I can change my lifestyle, and it will improve. Not everyone has that luxury.

This is what I have done. At first I tried to change the way I sat down all day, without changing the actual sitting. New keyboard, back cushion, fancy chair. At work I have a height-adjustable desk, and a saddle seat (unfortunately it didn’t come with its own horse.) But that wasn’t enough. I had to start moving.

Nowadays, I get up out of the chair in between bouts of writing, and move around. Sometimes it’s to do glamorous chores, other times it’s to go for a nice thought-provoking walk. I run. For someone who has spent most of her life convinced that she can’t run more than a few steps without being out of breath, this is a big deal. I go to training. You see, they have these things called weights, and I have been introduced to the joys of lifting them. I have muscles. I’ve never had muscles before!

And you know what, it’s working. I can sit down and write now, without fear of initially creeping and eventually debilitating pain. If I have to, I can sit down all day, and even in bad chairs. Continuum proved this only a few weeks ago. Of course, I’d rather not, but if I have to, I can. Give me the chance and I will shout it to the rooftops — I am not in pain!

In one way, this doesn’t translate to more writing time, because I’m spending more time doing those exercisey things I was just talking about. But I do think it has made a difference to the writing itself. You grow accustomed to constant pain. You don’t realise how draining it is, or the negative effects it can have on your spirit and mind. Now, when I sit at the desk, all I need to worry about are the words and worlds in my head and at my fingertips.

So that’s my experience, and one I’m happy to share. Sometimes too happy — I can talk about this at annoying length. As I said, we’re all different. So this isn’t advice, in that it isn’t a new rule to add to the list. It’s just what happened to me, and what I learned along the way.

Joanne Anderton lives in Sydney with her husband and too many pets. By day she is a mild-mannered marketing coordinator for an Australian book distributor. By night, weekends and lunchtimes she writes science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her short fiction has most recently appeared in Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear! and Epilogue. Her debut novel, Debris (Book One the Veiled Worlds Series) was published by Angry Robot Books in 2011, with book two Suited published in 2012. Debris was a finalist for the 2011 Aurealis award for Best Fantasy Novel, and Jo won the 2012 Ditmar for Best New Talent. Visit her online at http://joanneanderton.com and on Twitter @joanneanderton

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The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers

Today I received an email saying that my membership application for The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers had been confirmed. This is rather exciting to me because, even though I only have one official tie in credit to my name, it’s a field that I’d love to do more in. Hopefully, this is another step on that journey.

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Deck the Halls is live!

Deck the Halls, the Christmas themed anthology from eMergent Publishing is now live! You can read a new story every hour as they are posted on the Literary Mix Tapes blog. follow the link for more details, and the schedule is below (including mine, right at the end).

Tuesday 17th July
9am Touched Rowena Specht-Whyte
10am Drench the School Benjamin Solah
11am Coming Home Rebecca L Dobbie
12pm While You Were Out Sam Adamson
1pm Twenty Five Rebecca Emin
2pm A Jolly Pair Christopher Chartrand
3pm Gays and Commies Graham Storrs
4pm A Better Fit Jen Brubacher
5pm Salvation Nicole Murphy
6pm A Troll For Christmas Jo Hart
7pm Modraniht Kate Sherrod
8pm ‘Til Death Do Us Part Emma Kerry
9pm High Holidays Dale Challener Roe
10pm The Headless Shadow Jonathan Crossfield
11pm Not A Whisper Lily Mulholland

Wednesday 18th July
12am Through The Frosted Window Laura Meyer
1am Lords of the Dance Janette Dalgliesh
2am Midsummer’s Eve S.G. Larner
3am Yuletide Treasure Rob Diaz II
4am Broken Angel Jodi Cleghorn
5am Unfolding Alison Wells
6am Hail The New Trevor Belshaw
7am Softly Sing The Stars Steve Cameron
8am Through Wind and Weather David McDonald

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Wednesday Writers: Gillian Polack

As if going round conventions handing out chocolate was not laudable enough, admidst everything else she does Gillian writes a most excellent column called Bookish Dreaming (you can read more about it in Gillian’s snapshot, or better still go check it out!). I’ve really been enjoying it, and one of the things that has struck me is Gillian’s talent for research and attention to detail. As someone who is, shall we say, not so good in this regard, I was delighted when Gillian agreed to come and share a post on the subject and I hope you find it as useful as I have. The timing of the post has worked out really well too, Gillian has just launched her book, Ms Cellophane, this month – check it out!

Thank you, David, for inviting me to your Wednesday Writers slot. I feel far more formal than I usually am, because you specifically asked me to write about research. The trouble is, when I think ‘research’ I think ‘formal’ and take on a bunch of academic pretensions. That’s not how I actually do research. It’s how I learned to think about researching when I was an undergraduate. My idea of research, though, isn’t only the stuff I learned as an undergraduate. The formal suit only gets hauled out for scholarly papers. Most of the time research for me is leggings and a t-shirt. It’s my everyday life, not those approaches we’re taught at impressionable ages.

I pretty much live research. You can see that from the snapshot interview you did of me (and I’m going to try very hard not to say the same thing here!). I think about what I see when I walk down the street and I create paradigms to test what I’m thinking. It’s constantly being aware and constantly learning. It’s also a lot of fun. Most of this thought doesn’t see light of day. Occasionally someone twists my arm and I write an article or teach a class. But mostly, I use it to build novels and to build the worlds that my novels are in.

Take Ms Cellophane for example (I keep saying that it’s available ‘at a computer near you’ but the thing I can’t get over is being able to buy my own novel in iTunes – that’s just warped. Anyhow…) the Canberra of that novel and even the household of that novel are all constructed. They’re not the world as we know it: they’re the world of the novel. I looked into stuff that I might have known, but wanted to be certain of. I am not my characters. My world may look a bit like theirs, but it’s not theirs at all.

I had to work out what sort of house a Canberra public servant would buy at the time Elizabeth would have bought a house. Hers turned out to be not what I live in at all: hers is a 3 bedroom ex-govvie, with a quite specific floorplan. So many Canberra houses are like this, but I bought a few years later than her and so I have a flat and my living space is very different. In other words, one aspect of research is establishing differences and finding out how my characters live and what those differences mean to their lives. I used the internet wisely for the house (I looked at house sales and floorplans) but I also visited friends and the friends of friends and noted what things looked like and why.

Even the floorplan of the workplace she leaves was researched. That shade of pale purple used in an open plan office existed in one particular office in Civic at the moment of the novel and it was the perfect type of office for her work, not only because it was so very Canberran, but also because the Department in question had a bit of a reputation for workplace bullying. I researched using the gossip network for this one. Not all research is from books and using the computer. I used the gossip network because I wanted that aspect of the book to resonate with locals. They might not be able to pin down that resonance, but it would be there and it would add credibility to the story.

I wanted to create a world that felt real: so I used reality to create it. Not my reality, but the reality that the people in the novel would have experienced if they existed outside my imagination.

It’s easy to explain using a contemporary novel. I do the same research for all my world building, though. I’ve just built a town in the Languedoc in 1305 for a time travel novel and I researched everything from medieval masculinities to how the sculpture in the local abbey actually looked. That was such miserable research: I had to go to France last July and eat French food and drink French wine and chat with French museum staff. Weep for me. I also read aphorism in Middle French, to establish an important aspect fo a character. For this, I needed Middle French (and Old French and Modern French, as it turned out), so it’s just as well that my inner other self (one of the many) is a Medieval historian.

Except that it’s not ‘just as well.’ There’s no coincidence in that. Historians do a lot of research. We live and breathe it. It made perfect sense that I, as a novelist who happens to be an historian, would translate that skill and use it in as part of my writing process for fiction. I built worlds in alternate universes just as carefully as I built my contemporary Canberra and my 1305 Languedoc. For me, it’s part of my fiction. If my characters can’t see and feel the street they walk down, then I’m not ready to write the novel.

I start with the rocks underneath a place (quite literally: I begin with geological maps) and work my way upwards. I look at the place over time and the place in relation to its neighbours. I look at languages and at politics. I look at rainfall and plant species. My research enables my mind to experience the novel’s setting and it means I know the choices my characters have. When they can run, or when the hill’s too steep. When water is a problem and when alcohol is.

I hate it when the research is done and the novel is finished and I love it when I can start the whole process again. Right now, my mind is thinking about moving into a very strange house. It isn’t ready yet, for it’s still dwelling in the Languedoc in 1305, but soon… I have a notebook with the beginnings of the process and in a few months I will move out of the notebook and the research will colonise my loungeroom and then it will take over my life and then the characters will talk and the novel will start to take shape.

Happiness, for me, starts with a notebook and with research plans.

Gillian Polack is based in Canberra. She is mainly a writer, editor, educator and historian. Her most recent print publications are a not-quite-cookbook, a novel (Find details on her latest release, Ms Cellophane, here!), an anthology and a slew of articles. Her newest anthology is Baggage, published by Eneit Press (2010).One of her short stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award a long time ago, and three have (more recently) been listed as recommended reading in international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories. She received a Macquarie Bank Fellowship and a Blue Mountains Fellowship to work on novels at Varuna, an Australian writers’ residence in the Blue Mountains. Gillian has a doctorate in Medieval history from the University of Sydney and is currently completing a Creative Arts one at the University of Western Australia. She researches food history and also the Middle Ages, pulls the writing of others to pieces, is fascinated by almost everything, cooks and etc. Currently she explains ‘etc’ as including Arthuriana, emotional cruelty to ants, and learning how not to be ill. She is the proud owner of some very pretty fans, a disarticulated skull named Perceval, and 6,000+ books.