Category Archives: Writing

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Stephanie Gunn

Stephanie Gunn is a writer and one time (mad) scientist. She has had several short stories published, has been nominated for a Ditmar Award and won a Tin Duck award for her reviewing and fan writing. She reads slush for ASIM and is a regular Aurealis Awards judge, currently convening the Young Adult panel. She is currently at work on a contemporary fantasy novel, and lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, son, and requisite fluffy cat.

You’re a prolific reviewer (and judge) of speculative fiction, especially Australian works. Are there any particular challenges that are presented when reviewing Australian writers, given the nature of our community?

The main challenge, I think, is the size of the Australian speculative fiction community. We’re not a large community, and sometimes it feels like everyone knows everyone. It can be hard not to let bias creep into your reviews, especially if you’re reviewing a friend’s work or someone you admire. I’ve swung back and forth a few times about whether I should be reviewing work by people I know well, but I’ve come down firmly on the side that says that good work deserves attention. If I’m good friends with a writer or have beta read the story or book I’m reviewing, I try to note it in the review, and then I try to be as unbiased as possible in the review itself.

The same goes for awards judging, but I try to be even harder on myself, disconnecting as much as possible from the writer and only reading for the strength of the work. It really helps that the Aurealis Awards and the Australian Shadows Awards (both of which I’ve judged for) have a jury-based system, so even if one judge is jumping up and down about a friend’s book, if it’s really not that good, the other judges are there to talk them down. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky with the people I’ve been on judging panels with over the years, and everyone has been brilliant in reading works without bias coming through (or noting in discussions if they are friends with an author, just in case that is colouring their opinions at all).

I am constantly astonished by the vibrancy of our community, when it comes down to it. There are so many amazing writers who are producing incredible work, and there are reviewers like Tsana Dolvicha and Sean Wright who produce a lot of very thoughtful, insightful reviews and help spotlight Australian speculative fiction works. Even if their blogs inevitably make me buy books.

Stephanie GunnOn your blog you have explored various approaches to the writing process. How important is a structured approach to you as a writer? What process have you found the most effective?

When I started writing with an eye to actually getting published, I was a hardcore pantser who believed that novels were some kind of magic that just flowed from the aether onto the page. I produced a couple of novels that way, writing in the odd scraps of time I had in between studying at university. Those novels are shoved deep in the metaphorical trunk, and deserve permanent incarceration there.

And just so no one thinks I’m dissing pantsers – I know it’s a method that works for many people. Kudos to you if your brain and subconscious works that way.

The thing is that, while I was writing this way, I was also studying science. My brain likes taking things apart, figuring out how they work, understanding them. As I’ve moved into actually getting serious about this whole writing thing, I’ve moved more and more to using a structured approach. I outline heavily now, even if I don’t always stick exactly to my outline. I’ve spent a lot of time studying different types of story structures. I don’t tend to write slavishly to any kind of structure, but these things – the three act structure and the hero’s journey, for example – are things that are hardwired into humans as storytelling animals. They’re tools that we can use as writers to deepen resonance, or to hang unfamiliar things on to help make them work for readers.

I’ve been experimenting a lot with process over the last few years – I’ve tracked word counts, tried not tracking, moaned a lot about how slow a writer I feel I am. Right now the current process that seems to be working is spending a month or so working up my characters and outlining (which runs 20-30 pages for a novel) and then belting out a really bad first draft as fast as possible. This sits for at least a few weeks, then I go back and re-outline and then redraft. At this stage, I send to at least one beta reader, then rinse and repeat. At line editing stage, I use Scrivener to read the text back to me to listen for odd phrasing and the like (I cannot recommend this enough to every writer). I also retype all my drafts fully, which I cannot recommend to any writer who wants to keep their wrists intact. I hope to break myself of that need at some stage in the future.

I’ve also had a lot of recent success using the Magic Spreadsheet to track my word counts. I’ve tried tracking on my own, doing a general “don’t break the chain” thing, but the Magic Spreadsheet seems to click for the way my brain works.

kisses-by-clockwork-webYou’ve also been very open about your health issues. How much impact does this have on your writing, and what advice would you offer to other writers facing similar issues?

For those who don’t know, I have lupus and fibromyalgia, the onset of which came halfway through my PhD in immunology/genetics. I limped through the latter half of my studies and finished, though I was too sick to even go to my graduation, and almost immediately went onto a disability support pension. Having to give up a career in science shattered me for a long time, and I spent quite a few years in a deep depression about it, not really able to do much of anything. Though I did keep writing, even if it was only a few words a day. It took a few years to get diagnosed, but once I did, and started getting medicated appropriately, things started to improve.

I have been extraordinarily lucky in the amount of support I’ve had – my family and my husband support me 100%, and I’m even luckier that my husband has a stable income, which means that I don’t have to work outside of the home. It breaks my heart that I know so many other people with disabilities and/or chronic illness who don’t get the support they need. There’s this pervasive idea in the media and community that people who are chronically ill are bludgers, which couldn’t be further from the truth – everyone I know who deals with illness would love to work, if only the jobs existed that could work with their limitations.

A lot of my life revolves around illness management. I have to be really careful about getting enough rest – napping if needed – and I need to eat well and keep exercising within my limits. For me, I’ve found that a huge part of my self-esteem comes from being productive and feeling like I contribute something to my chosen community (hence the reviewing, awards judging and slush reading). In terms of writing, I try to produce something every day, even if it’s awful and I delete it the next day. If I balance everything well, at the moment I can work between 1-4 hours a day (more usually 1-2 hours), but I always have to remind myself that in a day or a week or a month everything might crash again. I can be very guilty of pushing too hard, trying to cram in lots of work to stash against the bad days, but I’m working on that.

My advice to other writers is to cherish any support you have. Find what makes you feel useful, and pursue it – even if it’s writing one word a day, that is still writing. Inform yourself about your illness and be proactive with your medical team. Don’t hesitate to fire doctors, but also remember that they’re human, too, and they can make mistakes. The internet is your friend – there are so many little communities for people with chronic illness popping up. I’ve found Instagram to be particularly useful (search for the hashtag #spoonie and you will find so many other people struggling and achieving and commiserating together).

The main thing is this: you are not alone and you are not useless.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Alan Baxter’s “Bound” and Marianne de Pierres’ “Peacemaker” are both brilliant beginnings to new urban fantasy series. I loved Alexis Wright’s “The Swan Book” and Ambellin Kwaymullina’s first two books in the “Tribe” series and am looking forward to the sequels. Allyse Near’s “Fairytales for Wilde Girls” is also incredible.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I always thought that I’d only ever want to pursue the traditional publishing path – get an agent who sells your book to a big publisher etc etc. And I still would like to pursue that path – but I am also conscious of the fact that what I write isn’t necessarily going to be something that a traditional publisher is going to find marketable. And that’s okay, because writers have so many other options now. For example, we have a multitude of small presses in Australia who are doing amazing things – in particular, Ticonderoga Publications and Twelfth Planet Press stand out for me as really striving to produce work that stands strong both in Australia and internationally.

Ideally, I’d like to purse a two-pronged path: publishing both through traditional means and also exploring self-publishing. And when I talk about self-publishing, I talk about making an investment in your career, which means paying a good editor for a full structural edit, paying someone to format your book, paying someone for good cover art. I’ve seen more than one writer desperate to have their name on a book literally slapping some free stock art on a first draft and lobbing it at Amazon, and it frustrates me, because if they had taken the time to rewrite, to edit or pay for editing, they might have had something that really stood out. In saying that, there are more than a few writers who are doing a fabulous job of self publishing – Patty Jansen and Andrea K Host are both authors who people could do well to look to before exploring self publishing.

I think we as writers are really lucky to have so many options right now, but it also works against us in that there are so many books being published, and its easy for your work to be lost in the morass.

In five years, I hope I’ll be at the point of having at least one book published and being read. The novels that I’m currently working on are contemporary fantasy, but I also have a weird steampunk dystopia setting (which I used in the story “Escapement”, recent published in Ticonderoga’s “Kisses by Clockwork” and in an interrelated story, “Pinion”, hopefully to be published soon) which I hope to expand into a novel. Mostly I want to be working in contemporary and mythic fantasy, though.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, , Helen Stubbs Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Catherine S. McMullen

Catherine S. McMullen is a writer and film & TV professional, currently living in Melbourne.

Her fiction work has been published in Nightmare Magazine, Aurealis Magazine, Dark Tales, and others, and her non-fiction work includes articles for Non-Fiction Gaming and Reading for Australia. She was the youngest person to ever to sell a story to a professional science-fiction magazine, selling to Interzone Magazine at age 10. Recently, her short story ‘The Nest’ was nominated for an Australian Shadows Award from the Australian Horror Writers’ Association, and her short story ‘Monday-child’ was voted by Aurealis subscribers as Best Story of 2013.

Catherine currently works full-time in film & TV industry. She has worked in various roles on different productions, in both scripted and unscripted, including AACTA award winning series Nowhere Boys, unscripted shows Real Housewives of Melbourne and Formal Wars, and feature films Cut Snake and Paper Planes. She also works as a note-taker and researcher for TV writers’ rooms, and writes analysis and coverage for both scripts and prose.

Catherine graduated in 2011 with a double degree in Arts/Law from the University of Melbourne, on a full Melbourne National Scholarship.

She is a a life-long nerd and former MMO addict, and enjoys books, TV, movies and games, especially if they’re about robots or dragons (or possibly robotic dragons).

You hold the record for the youngest person to make a pro sale (at age 10 to Interzone). Along with being the daughter of a noted writer, do you feel that this created pressure on you as your career progressed?

Being published so young definitely did put a lot of pressure on me, although in retrospect, I think most of it was pressure that I placed on myself. I used to worry that I had lost my ability to write because I hadn’t written anything for a while…. at the ripe old age of fifteen. But after a while, school and then university took precedence instead, and while writing was always at the back of my mind, it stopped being the focus as much, which I think was probably healthy anyway.

It was only really when I began working full-time after uni, that I began to write again – I suddenly found that I had no spare time, and that I wanted to write in what time I did have.7250927 (1)

In terms of being the daughter of a noted writer – I haven’t actually ever felt pressured by this, only encouraged and supported by people that like Dad’s work, and by Dad himself. It helps that there’s never been even the slightest hint of rivalry – more that we’re both following our own writing path, and we’re ecstatic whenever the other person gets something published or gets nominated for an award. I think I cried when Dad told me he’d been nominated for a Hugo!

 After a gap of around ten years, you’ve burst back onto the scene with a number of critically acclaimed and award nominated short stories. Did this time away affect your approach to writing or your writing process?

The time away from writing taught me one extremely valuable lesson – you’re not a writer unless you finish the story.

‘Monday-child’ was literally the first story I finished in ten years, and ‘The Nest’ was the second. I was lucky enough to sell both of those – but those were the only two stories that I actually finished that year.

Nightmare Magazine September 2013No one will publish “that half-finished amazing story about vacuums” that is sitting in your drafts folder (this is a real story I haven’t finished, and the date on the file says 2007…).

To be a writer, you have to finish the story. Then start on the next one.

I’m still getting better at that second bit.

aurealis_57_cover_180_pixels_wideOne of the projects you’ve mentioned on your blog is your work on a children’s TV series. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

I’m currently working on a television show called Nowhere Boys – we’re shooting the second season at the moment. I work as a production assistant, and I was also an attachment in the script department.

The first season of Nowhere Boys was commissioned while I worked for the production company that produces it, Matchbox Pictures, so I’ve been around for the whole process, from development to broadcast, which has been a great learning experience.

nowhere-boysThe first season aired on ABC 3 at the end of last year, and was a huge success, winning the AACTA, Logie and Prix Jeunesse awards for Children’s TV. A novelization of the show has just been published as well, by Elise McCredie, who was one of our very talented writers on the first season, and who is also writing on the second (http://www.booktopia.com.au/nowhere-boys-elise-mccredie/prod9781760120160.html ).

It’s very exciting to be a part of, not just because it’s a great show and a great team; as a huge speculative fiction nerd, I’m just happy that there’s good quality TV shows being made in Australia with science-fiction and fantasy themes. I’d be watching it, even if I wasn’t working on it!

05_17 438 NowhereBoys_Matt Testro as Jake_Rahart Sadquizi as Sam_Joel Lok as Andy and Dougie Baldwin as Felix_lowresWhat Australian works have you loved recently?

I’m currently about halfway through reading The Bone Chime Song And Other Stories by Joanne Anderton. It’s a fantastic collection, lots of really original and striking stories, and it’s intimidating and inspiring all at once.
BoneChimeCoverDraft-195x300I also just finished Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts, which I was incredibly excited about when I found out about it recently – the first two books in the series are two of my all-time favourites, and I think it’s fantastic that FableCroft Publishing has published the third. Loved it by the way – and I hope the fabled fourth book finds its way onto my shelves soon!
InkBlackMagicsmHave recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Years ago, I remember Dad talking about shelf space when a new book would come out, and how long your book had on the shelves before they decided to move it. That is far less of a determining factor now – eBooks mean that if your book is online, someone can buy it if they want to. Conversely, it also means that there are a lot more books out there competing for people’s attention. Self-publishing also seems like a lot more of a viable route now, and I’ve been keeping track of authors like Linda Nagata, who self-publishes all of her own books, after years of being with the major publishers.

I don’t think that all of this has affected the way I work per se – more just made me aware that there are more routes open to me than the traditional ‘send it to a publisher, wait for them crush your hopes and dreams’ approach.

And in five years, I hope I’m writing something that makes me excited, and a bit scared of what I’ve written. I don’t really care what format it’s in, or where it’s published, as long as it fulfills those two criteria.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, , Helen Stubbs Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Christopher Sequeira

Christopher Sequeira is a writer and editor who specialises in mystery, horror, science fiction and super-heroes. His short stories and articles have been published in Australia, the UK, the USA and Canada.  He has also written scripts for flagship superhero comic-books, such as Justice League Adventures for DC Entertainment, and Iron Man and X-Men stories for Marvel Entertainment. He has created original characters and edited and published comics in Australia, including the Tides of Hope anthology that raised $10,000 for charity in the wake of the national disaster that was the Queensland floods of 2010. Sequeira, his wife, and two children, reside in Sydney.  He is currently developing two television series; three prose anthologies; a feature horror film with friend and former professional collaborator, Oscar winner Dave Elsey; and several comic-books for the international market.

You’ve produced work seemingly across the entire spectrum – prose stories, graphic novels, collaborative works, radio, and even a graphic story using real photography. Do you find it hard moving from one medium to another? What are some of the challenges in doing so?

I’ve even done some TV and film scripting, and I very occasionally do visual art pieces, too, so I guess I’ll take a run at most stuff. I will say that I don’t think these are ‘all the same’; I think they have very different requirements and need different rules to be observed to successfully execute a story for them, you have to study the formats and see what the audiences expects, and get that down before you do a piece, otherwise it will be a mess. I don’t find it hard moving from project to project, my biggest problem is I’m usually juggling too many, but that, I’ve gotten REAL good at! No, the real thing is, study the form, study the genre, know and respect these things and you’ll find opportunities to tell good stories. When I get an idea for something now, I can usually categorise it in my head: “That’s a novel.” “That will only work as a short film.” “That would work as a screenplay and possibly a graphic novel.” “That’s a comic-book on-going series, etc.” If you can do that, you won’t get too badly off-track and can concentrate on how to make something a good story.

3546735It would be safe to call you an expert when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, with a number of essays, as well as prose stories and graphic novels featuring the iconic detective. What is it about the character that appeals to you so much? What impact do you think the recent decisions regarding the copyright on Holmes will mean to the field?

Yeah, I have the credits and lifelong obsession with the character, and enough stories and non-fiction articles in print to justify that label (and in fact I intend a book collecting my stuff in a year or so)! The reason I like the character is because he’s both the first superhero (e.g. the non-super-powered time, and he’s the first scientific hero. The original stories are just so, so remarkable, not just in the way the style is so accessible where other Victorian efforts are hard to read now, but the insights into the human condition as well as the plots are just so dazzling! Doyle was an absolute original.

The copyright decision is great, I know Les Klinger who was the champion here. The position pursued here by him here was not about taking Holmes off anybody, it was Les arguing the law already allowed Holmes SHOULD be in the public domain NOW; so it needed to be accepted. The final book of stories, as Les always said, are themselves still NOT pd. But the main characters and their attributes are. I think the field won’t be damaged by the decision, as just like Dracula and Frankenstein the fact can use a character doesn’t mean everyone will every day. There have been terrible Holmes takes, and there still will be, but there will still be cool ones!

CrossoverYou are heavily involved in the Australian comics industry. If someone was trying to learn more about what is currently being produced here, as well as some of classics of the field, what are some of the essential stories and artists you would consider “must reads”?

I’m heavily involved in the local scene – and, man, am I involved with the biggest local comics project – in every sense of the word, right now, than I ever have, but I’m also still obsessed and involved with American and international comics, too. I have my favourite creators, rather than titles: Classics include dozens, but I gotta mention Steve Ditko (whom I know and have met), Kirby, Colan, Wally Wood, dozens more. Modern; I’d have to say Alan Moore, Gibbons, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid (a friend, and a flippin’ ‘proper’ comics writer – the guy understands his job is to deliver EVERY issue). Study these guys and just get lost in the craft. Pulling one of their stories apart is a joy of a learning experience. Lots of others, too. The best Australians include Gary Chaloner, Paul Mason, Bruce Mutard and Nicola Scott; and people you aren’t going to be able to stop from setting the world on fire include Jason Franks, Julie Ditrich, and Jon Sommariva (they are already doing so).

15597What Australian works have you loved recently?

LOVED is that strong word. I think Bruce Mutard’s collected stuff is always a delight on the comics scene. In prose Kaaron Warren is continually amazing. My buddy, Paul Mason is a machine.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I have never been more excited about the publishing industry because it is undergoing evolutionary change, and now the potential for great works is not shackled to earning the favour of rich people. Great stuff can get into the marketplace with some smart thinking and a click of the mouse. It won’t sell particularly well unless the work is solid, so that’s eminently fair, as far as I’m concerned.

After years away from publishing I’m back in again with really great collaborators all excited by strategically well thought out projects with the highest calibre creators involved. Four books I am editing have me really, really excited, three should shelves or crowdfunding platforms in less than 12 months, they are collaborations with the best professionals in the country and overseas; and represent a real game-change to the belief we can’t do quality commercial stuff here. I’m also working on some film and US comics stuff, but that’s stuff you can’t really discuss until it germinates, one’s a project with Mark Waid, another involves my pal, Chewie Chan, another, Paul Mason, another Jan Scherpenhuizen and probably Jason Franks. Cool things aplenty.

I’ll read anything I get time for, but there’ll always be horror and there’ll always be heroes. And I read lots of geopolitics, because that’s the real version of both.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, , Helen Stubbs Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Terry Dowling

Terry Dowling is one of Australia’s most respected and internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, dark fantasy and horror, and author of the multi-award-winning Tom Rynosseros saga and the much admired Wormwood. He has been called “Australia’s finest writer of horror” by Locus magazine, its “premier writer of dark fantasy” by All Hallows and its “most acclaimed writer of the dark fantastic” by Cemetery Dance magazine. The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series featured more horror stories by Terry in its 21 year run than by any other writer.

The award-winning US genre newspaper Locus also calls him a “highly original” writer, “the most noted prose stylist in Australian speculative fiction” and regards his work as placing him “among the masters of the field.”

Dowling’s award-winning horror collections are Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear (International Horror Guild Award winner for Best Collection 2007), regarded as “one of the best recent collections of contemporary horror” by the American Library Association, An Intimate Knowledge of the Night (Aphelion 1995) and the World Fantasy Award nominated Blackwater Days (Eidolon 2000). His most recent titles are Amberjack: Tales of Fear & Wonder (Subterranean 2010) and his debut novel, Clowns at Midnight (PS Publishing 2010), which London’s Guardian called “an exceptional work that bears comparison to John Fowles’s The Magus.

Dowling has written three computer adventures (Schizm: Mysterious Journey, Schizm II: Chameleon and Sentinel: Descendants in Time), and co-edited The Essential Ellison and The Jack Vance Treasury among many other titles. He lives in Sydney, Australia and his homepage can be found at www.terrydowling.com

Your “Rynosseros Cycle” stands as one of the significant works of Australian Speculative fiction. Looking back, how do feel about its legacy? Do you have any plans to return to that world?

I’m very proud of that cycle of stories and the part it played in helping Aussies become further recognised as global players – writers with their own valid take on the world. In many ways it’s where I refined my craft, and the whole saga is very precious to me. That said, one of the important things for any storyteller is knowing when to step back and let things be. I had no existing plan to abandon the cycle in 2004 (“The Library”, published in X6 in 2009, was written back in 1990), but because my dear friend and publisher Peter McNamara had a terminal illness, it became incredibly important to finish Tom’s journey in time for Peter to be able to have it all. I already had the final scene on Lake Eyre from 1993 and so knew where it was going.

BIOPIC Terry Dowling (photo Cat Sparks)

(photo Cat Sparks)

When Peter asked for a Tom story for his last editing project, Forever Shores, in 2003, I wrote “Coyote Struck by Lightning.” That story provided the shape of the whole closing sequence and grew in the telling, leading to “Coming Down” and “Sewing Whole Cloth.” Peter took the lot – all 24,000 words of that ending – for Forever Shores. So for the best reasons in the world, that’s where the saga not so much ends as stops (to make that important distinction) on a crucial open note. So as not to compromise the vital open-endedness of those final events, any further adventures in Tom’s future Australia would have to be set before that final showdown or concern one of the other Coloured Captains. Who knows what might happen, but as I’m seeing it now the close of the cycle was given when those three stories appeared in Forever Shores as the ‘novella’ “Rynemonn” which then, of course, became the closing section of the fourth Tom book Rynemonn.

9781862546226You continue to have short stories published all over the world, and are a regular part of international “Year’s Bests”. Over your career do you feel that the impact of Australian writers on the international scene has changed, for better or worse, and is it easier or harder for Aussies to break out into overseas markets?

There was a time when both science fiction and fantasy truly could be new, fresh and different, experimental, risk-taking and pretty much without conceptual borders, just by the nature of what was being done with story prior to, during, and immediately following World War 2. That watershed situation couldn’t last. The growth of the youth culture in the 60s, things like increased leisure-time, increased disposable income, ‘greatest return to shareholders’ thinking in a booming consumer culture tended to mean lowest common denominator standards in all areas of creative activity: pursuing safe ventures, using proven formula, encouraging franchise thinking.

To answer your important question, Aussie writers, then as now, are competing in a global market, and in what is usually a proven meritocracy, where quality, skill and originality tend to come to the fore as they have always done. That means we’re all in the same boat: all looking for the next great idea, the next flash of inspiration that will speak to the age about itself. That can come from anywhere. So we’re no longer out in the cold, lost and forlorn at the ends of empire. Fortunately, part of this global process has long included the roles of insightful editor and enlightened entrepreneur. They’re other forms of creativity in a sense, and while they too must bow to shareholder requirements to an extent, they nonetheless get to play a vital part in the discovery, championing and marketing of story and the promotion of worthy talents with this take on the global experience, no less than indie film-festival organisers presently do with film-making.9780819573674

The truth is that there are more people writing now, many of them good enough writers but often derivative rather than very original storytellers. They often don’t know any better, aren’t sufficiently aware of what else there’s been. And as I say in writing classes, the best storyteller in the room may in fact be the worst writer, and vice versa. So find out where you’re placed without buying into flattery and marketing hype, and understand just how the international scene has changed and, for Aussies, mostly in our favour. Accept too that the global scene does seem to be more self-imitating and self-enshrining, less original and daring now, and, most alarming of all, less aware that this is even the case. But quality does tend to come out. As Ray Feist said at lunch one time, “No-one expected J.K. Rowling to come along.” Old idea, magic school for children, but with a powerful new engine. That made the marketing people nervous, because no-one saw it coming.

So there it is. The nifty idea and the right skills, inspiration and opportunity will ensure that it stays a level playing field. But you have to get on the radar of the right people. And that generally means writing powerful short fiction, because unless you’re channelling Philip K. Dick, most of us don’t live long enough to risk building a lasting career writing novels. As I often say in writing classes: short fiction for the reputation, novels to pay the mortgage. All going well, once you’re on the global radar, novels will then replace the short fiction in that equation.

As well as your writing, you are a noted academic and critic. How has that impacted your writing, and vice versa?

Being a critic or commentator about F&SF as in any field tends to keep you aware of enduring standards and historical context – in other words, what has gone before. But while that kind of perspective can be valuable, the role can take over. The great enemy of becoming a creative writer is what I call Creativity Gone Elsewhere, when you fill up your life with busy, rewarding and important tasks that stop you putting yourself on the line doing what you really want to do: in my case telling stories. For a while there, I tended to use my academic efforts to keep me from taking my chance. We’re all storytellers, though not necessarily good enough writers, so what if we fail? It was easier to write about the work of others. That kept me off the streets for some time, but the emerging creative zeal was always there.

And as a singer-songwriter, poet, television performer, critic, reviewer etc, I already had enough valid creative outlets that I felt busy and purposeful. What it meant in real terms was that my skills were pretty well in place by the time I sold my first story at age 35. I’ve reviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, and finally for The Australian newspaper for 19 years. In that time I read a great deal of wonderful material, but also an overwhelming amount of derivative, formula fare that marketing labelled breathtaking, edgy and new when it wasn’t. That taught me to urge new writers to read the classics prior to 1990, to know what’s already been done and at least have the courtesy to pay their dues and name names. Full marks to the writers who do this.

As for the scholarly side, I still do the occasional academic piece, though now only at someone’s invitation and usually concerning aspects of my own work. For instance, “Dancing with Scheherazade: Some Reflections in the Djinni’s Glass” recently appeared in Parabolas of Science Fiction and concerns my approach to producing the Tom Rynosseros stories. What made me smile was when some reviewers of Clowns at Midnight saw my novel as the result of me doing my doctorate, all the philosophical noodling of an academic unable to help himself, when in fact the novel was written years before the degree was even considered and does precisely what was needed for the story. Exploring the mysteries of the world as a scholar has its attractions, but good story will always do that anyway. As someone who firmly believes that much of the time wisdom must be protected by enigma, I’d rather write a new story any day.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

There are so many local voices I find really strong and interesting, but for the reasons I’ve given regarding global publishing realities, it’s often hard to find work that’s new, fresh and different.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I haven’t changed the way I work much at all. Café longhand keyed in one day, continued on printed out text the next. I’m currently preparing much of my material for e-book release because that’s the shape of the market-place right now and a sensible approach to take. I prize the paper-book as an optimum form, however, the way a chair or a spoon are optimum forms despite what designers do to them. The paper-book form requires comparatively minimal technology to produce, is surprisingly durable, and is not dependent on other levels of technological infrastructure to maintain it once it exists. I suspect it will never go away because of that. RYNEMONN

Also, small print-runs can still reach the right readers, editors and reviewers. My award-winning Blackwater Days exists in only 350 copies or so, but it was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Historically, ideologically, the right kind of tail will always wag the dog. I tend to read the Best of’s in any year and try some of the international award-winners to see what’s making it; otherwise I tend to re-visit titles I’ve loved over the years, see what masters like Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester etc continue to give. As for what I write, my horror and dark fantasy does well for me internationally and leads to working with editors I respect and admire. So more of that. But this is where it becomes fun. You never know what will surface next? The journey is everything!

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, , Helen Stubbs Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Tracie McBride

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 Bleed, FISH and the Stoker Award-nominated anthologies Horror for Good and Horror Library Volume 5. Her debut collection Ghosts Can Bleed contains much of the work that earned her a Sir Julius Vogel Award.  She helps to wrangle slush for Dark Moon Digest and is the vice president of Dark Continents Publishing.  Visitors to her blog are welcome at http://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com.

You’re listed as the Vice-President of Dark Continents Publishing which is described as a writers’ co-operative. How is this different from the traditional model of a publisher, and what was the impetus behind going in this direction?

Dark Continents was born out of an informal conversation between authors on separate sides of the planet. One person was venting about the reluctance of his publisher to embrace modern technology, another concurred, a third suggested a writers’ co-op to do it “our way” and take back control of our work…and next thing you know, we were running a publishing company.

Soon after the company’s inception, we began to follow a more traditional small press approach by soliciting outside submissions. The spirit of the company remained the same, with a strong focus on giving our authors creative input and control over the publishing process as much as possible.
profile 2013 colourAs well as being VP of DCP, you are also Associate Editor of Dark Moon Digest, a fiction quarterly. How has being on that side of the desk, as a publisher and editor, affected your own writing?

I find it difficult to be objective about my work, and I’m sure that’s a feeling many authors share; I lurch between, “This is the best thing I’ve ever written!” and, “This is utter, utter, utter crap!” So it’s hard to say how it’s affected my writing. Unless you’re talking about volume; the time I spend on publishing, editing and reading the slush pile means I spend a lot less time on my own work. (Excuses, excuses, excuses…)

Your work been recognised with awards and nominations on both sides of the Tasman, and we do love adopting talented New Zealanders here! Do you see many differences in the speculative fiction writing scene between the two countries? Has moving between the two influenced your own work?

The difference between the two scenes is mostly one of scale; New Zealand is tiny, both geographically and in population, and that is reflected in the number of speculative fiction writers and local markets available. Ironically, moving to Australia has made me more confident to give my stories Antipodean settings and themes; when I was in New Zealand, almost all of my work was aimed at American publications. Perhaps the move to a country with a small but vibrant and well-respected community of speculative fiction publishers is responsible for the change.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The sad reality is that I don’t get to read nearly as much as I would like, so I’m sure that I’m missing out on a lot of sterling recent publications that ought to be pushed to the top of my TBR pile. I’m all about the short story, both writing them and reading them; at the risk of being accused of promoting my own interests, I was delighted to see contributions from Australian authors Rob Porteous and Simon Dewar included in Dark Continents’ latest anthology, “The Sea”, which was compiled and edited by South African author Nerine Dorman.

the sea cover ebookHave recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

The actual writing process remains the same, but once a story is finished, I feel like I’m spoiled for choice. Submit to a publisher? Or self-publish? Go big and launch a Kickstarter campaign? Or cultivate a small yet dedicated fan base via social media?

Whatever changes are still in store for us in the next five years, I hope to be striving for the same things I always have – to find a thought-provoking story and to tell it well.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, , Helen Stubbs Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of These Broken Stars, the first in a young adult science fiction trilogy published in thirteen countries, including by Disney-Hyperion in the US and Allen & Unwin in Australia. Film and television rights are in development with Off The Grid Entertainment. The sequel, This Shattered World, will be out in November 2014.

These Broken Stars won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, received a starred review from Booklist, was named Best Overall YA Book of 2013 by the Huffington Post, and was a Romantic Times Top Pick, being longlisted for the Gold Inky Award.

She’s also the co-author of Illuminae, a new transmedia trilogy coming from Random House/Allen & Unwin in 2015. Raised in Australia and Ireland, Amie has degrees in history, literature, law and conflict resolution. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and their rescue dog, and an extremely large personal library.

Your debut novel, These Broken Stars, has been a huge success, with a number of awards, critical acclaim, and international exposure.  What led up to These Broken Stars—was it your first major piece of writing, or had you been working on other projects for a while?

I’d been writing for fun for a number of years, but never with an eye to publication. These Broken Stars started that way too—my co-author Meagan Spooner and I were flatmates, and we were writing the story together for fun, to indulge our love of space opera and shipwreck stories. It was quite some time into the process that we realised we were writing something that might work for publication.

These Broken Stars was the first book I ever sent to an agent or had submitted for publication, but in a way I’d done my apprenticeship in the years before that, even though I wasn’t sending my work out anywhere.

Amie HeadshotYou obviously enjoy collaborating with other authors, with These Broken Stars being written alongside Meagan Spooner, and an upcoming series with Jay Kristoff. What is it about the act of collaboration that you enjoy, and are there any particular challenges you’ve faced?

I love working with a writing partner. You’ve always got someone in the trenches with you to bounce ideas around, challenge you and support you. The best stuff comes when you work together, and take each other places you’d never have found on your own.

I picked both my co-authors very carefully, so my journey’s been wonderful. My best advice for working with a co-author is to check you both have matching expectations in terms of who’ll do what work, what your goals are, how you’d deal with the project if one of you didn’t want to continue, and to make sure you have rock solid communication. Solve problems ahead of time, and you won’t have to deal with them halfway through.

TBS Aussie CoverDo you have any plans for more stories set in the world of These Broken Stars to go alongside the novels?

Yes! In October we’ll be releasing a free e-short titled This Night So Dark. It’ll be available on all e-reader platforms, and it’ll have the first two chapters of This Shattered World (Starbound #2) in the back, so readers can get a sneak peek.Starbound_Night So Dark

It’s set before These Broken Stars, and tells the story of how Tarver Merendsen came to be on the Icarus, why he has those medals, and why he doesn’t want to talk about it. We had a blast writing it—I haven’t done much with short stories before, but I definitely want to dip my toe in this pool again!

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Although it’s not spec fic, I loved Every Breath by Ellie Marney—it kept me up late. I also loved Jump by Sean Williams and I got an early read of Endsinger by Jay Kristoff, which finishes off the Lotus War trilogy perfectly.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I think authors have the opportunity to be far more in touch with their readers these days—for some it’s a mixed blessing, but I love it. It impacts my work in that I get to share the journey with readers. Once a month, Meg and I send out a newsletter that gives readers behind the scenes glimpses at what’s coming up, talks about our writing process, and really invites them into a part of the process they wouldn’t usually see. (If you want to sign up for that, by the way, you can do so at www.thesebrokenstars.com.au .) We also have the chance to offer stories like This Night So Dark that would have been harder to distribute in years gone past. We get to interact with fans via social media, and they produce all kinds of amazing stuff—illustrations, playlists of songs for each chapter of the book, photosets, the works. Their creativity is amazing, and I love the opportunity to have them share in the story.

TSW_C_2-6 alt3Five years from now, I hope I’ll still be writing and publishing speculative fiction—that’s certainly the plan! I think the ways in which we produce and consume it will continue to change, with more authors experimenting with new platforms and self-publishing, pursuing hybrid careers—and I think that’s exciting—but I do also think rumours of the death of traditional publishing have been greatly exaggerated.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, , Helen Stubbs Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

Galactic Chat Post Ditmar Bonus Cast

From the Galactic Chat Website:

In this week’s cast, we decided to do a Skype catch up with the team to talk about out recent Ditmar win.  In addition to congratulating each other we also took the time to engage in a little reflection.  We discuss podcasting as a way that authors can skill themselves up for interviews in other media spheres. We also talk about some of our favourite interviews and who we would interview if given the chance and money being no impediment.  

Enjoy our slightly Coode Street-esque ramble.

Credits

Interviewer: Sean Wright

Guests: Mark Webb, David McDonald, Alex Pierce, Helen Stubbs

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post-production: Sean Wright

Feedback:

Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014

The Aussie Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

SnaphotLogo2014In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014, conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. Last time we covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community with the Snapshot – can we top that this year?

To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done:

Writing update with shiny sales and shiny trophies!

Yet again I have been very bad with keeping up to date on my blog. But, I do have lots of exciting stuff to talk about!

Firstly, I have started a new job! I am working for the same organisation, but I have been seconded to our Editorial Department and am now responsible for a fortnightly magazine. It’s been a steep learning curve, but I am loving it. So, I guess now I am a professional writer/editor. The last issue was the first I did completely alone and having survived that I think I am going to be all right – but it was a long fortnight. The downside is that I have been so consumed by learning the ropes that I have let some stuff slide and let some people down with other things. :-(

I am also very excited to announce the sale of my story, “Her face like lightning”, to Fablecroft’s “Insert Title Here”. You can find out more details here.

I am currently working on two major projects that I hope to be able to announce in a month or so, but they are taking up most of my writing time. If they work out, they will be a big deal but until contracts are signed I will be keeping it quiet.

In June I went along to Continuum X and had an amazing time. I am a bit biased, being on the committee and all, but it seemed to be a smashing success. I spent a fair bit of time running around trying to help with organisational matters, but I also managed to catch up with heaps of friends, and make some new ones. My panels went reasonably well, and I even managed to organise a reprint of one of my stories. Well done to everyone who contributed to making it an awesome convention!

And, in a very surprising turn of events, we won both our categories in the Ditmars! I honestly didn’t expect it, given the other nominees, so it was a wonderful surprise. In the Atheling, New Who Reviews tied with Galactic Suburbia. As Galactic Suburbia was the first Aussie podcast I started listening to, and has had a huge influence on my perception of the genre, this was a huge honour. It’s been a great deal of fun working with Tansy and Tehani, so a big thank you to them for all their hard work and letting me be part of it (and a shout out to our guests over the years  – Lynne Thomas, Jo Anderton and Kathleen Jennings).

Then, in the Best Fan Publication, Galactic Chat won! Again, I have been fortunate to get to work with an incredible group of people, and Sean has worked extremely hard in his role as our fearless leader. We were very excited to see him win Best Fan Writer, as well – a very deserved result.

But, looking at the rest of the nominees in all the categories, it was an extremely strong list – and congratulations to all the winners, and nominees, for the wonderful work you are doing! You can see the full list here.

So, it has been an exciting few months! How is your year going?

Finally, all three of the New Who Review team together at a Con!

Finally, all three of the New Who Review team together at a Con!

A lovely work of art by Kathleen Jennings

A lovely work of art by Kathleen Jennings

Lunch on the last day - photo by Alan Baxter

Lunch on the last day – photo by Alan Baxter

with Alan Baxter and Alex Pierce - photo by Cat Sparks

with Alan Baxter and Alex Pierce – photo by Cat Sparks

Reprint deal with Clan Destine Press

Observant followers of the scene may have noticed that Clan Destine Press have launched a new website, and have been signing some new authors – including fellow SuperNOVArians Jason Nahrung and Pete Aldin.

I am delighted to announce that Clan Destine have asked to reprint my story “Cold comfort” (originally published by Fablecroft in the anthology, “Epilogue”). Details are yet to be completely hammered out, but it looks it will be part of their new fiction imprint and it is likely that it will be paired with another of my shorts.

Clan Destine have a great catalogue of writers, and have produced some wonderful books, so I am very excited to have a chance to work with them.

More details to follow!

CDP Poster