Monday, September 30, 2002

This turned into a very long post, I’m afraid!

I received my contributor’s copy of Machinations, the second Canberra SF Guild anthology a few weeks ago. Shamefully, I had only acquired a copy of their first book, Nor of Human, a few months earlier at ConVergence, even though it had been available via mail order for at least a year (so much for supporting local produce - at least I got there in the end!) For me, one of the standout stories in Nor of Human was Maxine McArthur’s “Playing Possum,” an interesting experiment with a new 1st person character on the space station Jocasta, Sergeant Sasaki, who provides a new view of the station and of the principal character of Maxine’s books, Commander Halley. I’d love to see more of Sasaki in future stories or books. Also, Alison Venugoban’s “Happy Birthday to Me” was one of the most exceptional stories in the collection, although reading it on the page was second-best to hearing her read the whole story through at the Aurealis readings at ConVergence, in a baby-doll voice that emphasised the sinister nature of this excellent story. Antony Searle’s “Flap,” was also a favourite, a story that deftly explores people’s reactions to the unknown, the tendency for otherwise rational people to transform into a mob under certain circumstances and the occasional need to believe in something other than ‘normal reality’.

Also in Nor of Human, I read Chris Andrews’ “Wyvern’s Blood” with great interest, mainly because he mentioned that story as an example of why his work was too dark for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine - having read the story I see what he means, although it was a very well-written piece especially considering it is his first short story published! The story is about a woman who is raped and impregnated by a wyvern, and how that event affects her life and destiny. The subject of rape in fantasy is an interesting one, particularly for myself as a classicist with a strong background in Greek and Roman myth where rape is an essential story element. Rape in fantasy fiction was quite common in the 70’s and 80’s - I remember Marion Zimmer Bradley commenting in one of her Sword and Sorceress Anthologies that the ‘Rape and Revenge’ theme was one that resurfaced again and again. In more recent years, rape has all but vanished from fantasy fiction - I’m sure there are exceptions but I haven’t come across any in ages and I read quite widely. Interestingly, the same thing has happened in US daytime soaps - in the 80’s every significant female character in Days of our Lives had been raped at least once, while in the 90’s female characters are often subjected to attempted rape, but usually saved ‘in the nick of time’. Writers, it seems, are less willing to inflict actual rape on their characters, perhaps because of the political correctness (and post-political correctness) that has swamped our society. I’m not someone who is particularly keen on gritty realism or reading about violence against women, but on the other hand rape has always been a fact of human society, and fantasy in particular (with so many worlds based on historical eras of Earth’s history) should occasionally reflect that. The subject came up at our writing group a few months ago - a male writer had written a story in which a 1st person female character is beaten up by a gang, but had avoided any reference to a possibility of rape because he felt uncomfortable with the topic - the female members of the group read the story and felt it was unrealistic for a woman to be in that situation without at least fearing she would be raped. Chris Andrews’ story “Wyvern’s Blood,” expands on the traditional ‘sacrificing a maiden to a dragon’ story (another popular fantasy trope which Marion Zimmer Bradley pointed out) by having the wyverns use human women to propagate their species, and holding the focus on how one woman is affected by that experience, to the point of becoming something other than human. It is essentially an old-fashioned ‘rape and revenge’ story but one with such interesting depth of character and vivid attention to detail that it is the story I think of first when remembering this collection

The Nor of Human collection is very strong overall, with only a few stories I didn’t enjoy or had trouble getting through, and it is very professionally presented. I particularly like Les Petersen’s sketched illustrations at the beginning of each story - there should be more black and white illustrations in books! Chuck and I seriously considered it for AustrAlien Absurdities but it turned out to be one complicated expense too many. I’d love to produce an anthology with a full page B&W illustration for each story, but that’s a long way in the future.

Now to Machinations - finally! - which is a very deserving successor to the first collection. First I should discuss the cover, which I thought quite horrible when I first saw it (not that the art is bad, merely that the image is disturbing) but I’ve grown quite used to it after having it lying around the house for a few weeks. It’s still sinister, but I do think it’s a better and more effective cover than that of Nor of Human. Likewise, the internal illustrations seem more effective in this second book, not that the artwork is necessarily better, but they are more solid and less sketchy, which is a style I prefer. Also, of course, having a story of my own in this collection, I had the delightful experience of (I think) my first Les Petersen original, which was very exciting - I love being illustrated!

My favourites in this collection were quite different author-wise. As with Nor of Human, I went first to Robbie Matthews’ Johnny the werewolf story, which I enjoyed, but not as much as the first Johnny story I ever read, “Dragon Omelette,” which Chuck & I published in AustrAlien Absurdities. I love serial stories and always look forward to Robbie’s next, but I still think we nabbed the best one of the three I have read so far.

I didn’t enjoy the stories by Maxine McArthur and Alison Venugoban quite as much as those they contributed to the first CSFG anthology, but on the other hand Allan T Price, whose story in Nor of Human I only vaguely liked, has produced a very strong one here, “Acid Test,” which deals with the old-age question of what artificial intelligence is, and how we can tell if it is there. Antony C Searle has provided another blinder for this collection, “Exponent,” which uses a flash-forward, flash-back storytelling device to great success, managing to be both horrifying and amusing with his description of, essentially, how a physicist thinks. This story is black humour at its best and the greatest compliment I can think of is that I wish I’d published it. Antony, wherever you are, submit to ASIM now!!

Another favourite of mine in this collection was Cory Daniells’ “Sir William Watson’s Psychic-meter.” Long before I met her, I first noticed Cory Daniells’ writing in Dreaming Down-Under when she was still writing SF under the name Rowena Cory Lindquist, and her “Prelude to Nocturne” was, for me, the story I took away from that collection and never really forgot. I have now read a great deal of Cory’s work and enjoy her novels greatly, but after reading so much of her romantic fantasy about alien women (including a manuscript in progress that has yet to be completed and published) I had quite forgotten how versatile she could be with short stories. “Sir William Watson” reminded me, with a marvellous nineteeth-century styled tale about psychic powers and fakery with a bit of a chilly ghost story thrown in.

For me, the exceptional ‘first published’ story of this collection is Nigel P Read’s “The Honeymoon,” which deals with the nature of VR recordings of people and the simulation of intelligence and personality in a manner similar to but still very different from the very popular “The Wedding Album” (don’t remember the author’s name) from a few years ago. The story is simple, but very effective.

Donna Hanson’s “WWPRO” is also very good - all writers will necessarily be drawn to this story, which is chilling in its rendition of a writer’s obsession, but also very realistic as a depiction of a near future possibility.

Lots of standout stories in this collection but no single favourite for me - perhaps a sign of a good editor, or at least one with similar tastes to mine. I do find it interesting that I enjoyed at least the same number of stories in this CSFG collection as in Nor of Human, considering that the theme necessarily was weighted towards science fiction rather than my preferred fantasy - although those fantasy stories in this collection were not among my favourites, my choices being more of the dark humour SF & stories with hints of horror. I’m certainly looking forward to the next CSFG offering, firstly to hear what their theme is so I can submit a story, and secondly to read the next anthology cover to cover!

Sunday, September 29, 2002

My main writing challenge at the moment is a story I’m working on for a reading I have to do on the 12th October. The theme is ‘gothic’ and I decided to do a sequel to a story I’ve been working on since Rome, “The Chaos Train.” Writing a sequel to a story you haven’t finished yet is definitely challenging, but once I came up for the title for the new one (The Chaos Cathedrals) I couldn’t resist it. Both stories are organic fantasy (where I make up the world as I go along) and distinctly urban - I love the combination of the everyday with the fantastical, as in my story ‘Fairy Godmother Express’ in the first issue of ASIM. In short stories, I think the less you explain about the world you are using the better, it should just be background. The world for my Chaos stories is our Earth, only an alternate version where the old gods are still around, and at war with each other, and other fantasy figures like heroes and wizards are as everyday as trains. It’s an old fashioned world as well, more 1940’s than modern day. My hero - a female warrior named simply ‘Hero’ - wears leather armour and carries a sword (but also a suitcase, since I never understand those fantasy stories where the hero carries no clean underwear or a good book) and has a bit of a black and white movie vibe in the Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn tradition. That’s the first story, anyway. The new one has to be gothic so poor old Hero is running up and down inside various cathedrals belonging to Roman gods chasing a rogue gargoyle. The basic style is frenetic, since the second story carries on directly from the first, and is my first real attempt at full-blown action stories. The idea is that it should be like watching a movie, although I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at it.

I was asked to do a ‘gothic’ reading for this Blank and Free presentation at the museum months ago, the person in charge knowing my work. I suppose I’ve written stuff before that I could have used - I have a children’s story about a gargoyle that I love, and my new book is about a dark, evil city suddenly appearing in Mocklore, but I like to produce something new when there’s a theme involved. I have two weeks and have written maybe a third of the story - I hope to have a draft ready for the Saturday meeting of the Invisible College (Hobart SF writing group) so I have time to polish it before the big day. No, I don’t set myself impossible goals! I know from past experience that it is possible to write a polished story in a few weeks, just hard work! I should get back to it, really...

Have finally broken the 50,000 word barrier on the new novel, which still does not have a title. Am speculating on using something along the lines of ‘Heroes and Villains’ since this is an overall theme. Can’t think of any way of continuing the watery & metallic themes of the first two titles, so will probably not bother.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

I’ve had short stories published before, but never in anthologies before this year, which left me unprepared for a completely new experience - having short stories reviewed! As an editor of AustrAlien Aburdities, I eagerly awaited the reviews to find out - what else - which stories were singled out for praise. The anthology has existed in mine & Chuck’s brains for years before it was published, so it was fascinating to see what outsiders thought of the individual stories. (incidentally, did anyone else notice that the review of AA in Orb mentioned everything but the stories?) I also read the reviews for Agog!, interested in how the anthologies were being compared.

What I didn’t expect was my own story being singled out - not the story I had in AA, but “Delta Void and the Clockwork Man,” from Agog! At least three recent reviews of that anthology have made particular mention of DV, which I found both stunning and gratifying, particularly since my reaction to that particular antho was that my story seemed completely frivolous compared to the edgier, more serious tone of most of the other stories. Apparently people like frivolous - good news for my writing career, then!

Apologies if I seem to be blowing my own trumpet too much (well, what else is a weblog for?) but I’m totally unused to good reviews - at least good reviews which don’t start with “Well, it’s not as good as Terry Pratchett but -” and I’m finding this too cheerful for words. Yay anthologies!

Saturday, September 07, 2002

The two books I have most enjoyed reading recently are The Queen’s Necklace by Teresa Edgerton and Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley. I’ve been a big fan of Teresa Edgerton since finding my first battered copies of her Green Lion Trilogy, the first novels she ever wrote (the first one, Child of Saturn was published by Ace in 1989), which were a lovely combination of adventure & romance with medieval renaissance court politics & lots of lovely details of daily life: festivals, food, frocks, the kind of easy description which helps you feel you really are reading about another world. The Queen’s Necklace is much the same, only more so. Since Edgerton doesn’t seem to have been published outside the US I haven’t really encountered her in-between books, but TQN shows how much her skill has improved between the Green Lion books and now. It’s a marvellous blend of Musketeer-type swashbuckling adventure, the right level of romance (satisfying & tense without being too gushy), lots of fascinating characters and a background world that mixes the familiar (and historical) with a magical alienness. The best bit? It’s a stand-alone novel. A solid, epic, beautifully-realised stand-alone novel without a part two or part three still to come. This is the book you refer to when explaining to publishers/writers/readers that no, fantasy doesn’t have to be a trilogy to be brilliant. Okay, Edgerton may well use the world she has so painstakingly created again and again in future novels, may even have used it before for all I know, but it doesn’t matter. The book stands on its own as a complete story while still being ingenious, original, epic and entertaining. I found my copy as a fluke in a second hand bookshop, so other Australians may have to work a bit harder to find a copy of their own, but if you’re a fan of Simon R Green, The Three Musketeers, Tamora Pierce or the Feist/Wurts Mistress of the Empire series, you’ll probably find this one worth the effort.

At the same random visit to the same second-hand bookshop I also came across a fluke copy of just about the only Robin McKinley I didn’t previously own: Spindle’s End. Robin McKinley is another of those authors who became my favourite due to one book and never proved herself otherwise. That book was Beauty, which I discovered about the time I was discovering fantasy generally (13) and promptly fell in love with. I re-read it on average about once every 18 months. Then about two years ago, I had my heart ripped out and put back in by the wonderful and horrible Deerskin, which showed the nasty side of fairytales just as Beauty had shown the practical side of such stories. Then at the end of last year, I gave up an afternoon of seeing the wights of Rome to immerse myself in Rose Daughter, which completely rewrote the Beauty and the Beast myth a second time, making the story even more practical than the first, and far more satisfying.

For some reason, when I came across it on Amazon, Spindle’s End didn’t appeal to me. In the second hand bookshop, it leaped into my hand. The only thing that stopped me reading it immediately was the aforementioned Queen’s Necklace. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I wouldn’t say Spindle’s End is Robin McKinley’s best work (but that’s only because I’m sure it’s one of the other three, can’t figure out which) but it is the most adventurous of her fairy tale novels in that the world itself is far less familiar. The concept of ‘fairy’ is central to the land depicted in Spindle’s End, redefining the term and thus redefining the fairy tale itself. The plot (which is essentially what happened to Sleeping Beauty between her christening and the spinning wheel) is moved along by a fascinating exploration of what it is to be a fairy, how you can tell who is and isn’t one, and how a medieval-style world steeped in magic would be very different to the one we think we know. A very thoughtful book, with wonderful characters and that same dry sense of humour that is present in all of McKinley’s work.

The only problem, of course, was what to read after those two! I was a wreck, desperate for something just as good. Then I started re-reading Tamora Pierce’s latest series, so that was all right...

Thursday, September 05, 2002

I’ll start with a general update, since this weblog thing is pretty new to me (although I think I’ll be getting addicted very soon!

My current major writing project is the third Mocklore novel (actually the second third Mocklore novel but that's a really long story) which is currently nameless, something very stressful for me. Usually I know what a book is called at least three years before I write it. This one was originally called Cloak and Dagger, but I went off that idea and since then it has been Improbable Heroes, Impossible Arts, Bright Black City, Ink City, Drak Magic, and various versions along similar lines. Right now it’s just known as the book. Possibly with capital letters. The BOOK. I plan to have it finished by the end of the year in time to take it to the next RoR novel critiquing workshop. I say plan because I’m a little disturbed that the manuscript keeps getting longer, but I’m still only halfway through. Eerie, that.

I recently became a published editor with AustrAlien Absurdities, co-edited by Chuck McKenzie and myself, which is still available in lots of good bookshops, and online. I’ve been told it’s selling really well, which is probably because it seems to have had a suspiciously large number of launches, plus it has a kick-ass cover by Dion Hamill. Oh, and it’s a really good book. Did I forget to mention that? It’s really good. Go buy six copies.

The other big project is my involvement with the groundbreaking new Australian SF publication, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Apart from being actively involved with the running of the mag (along with the other eighteen members) and having the pivotal job of Ad Girl, I am also editing issue 9, which is due to come out in October next year. Because of this timing, I’d really like my issue to have a Halloweeny kind of feel to it, with SF and Fantasy stories that have hints of horror or (more particularly) include some of the classic horror icons, eg vampires, ghosts, werewolves, witches, while still being SF & fantasy stories. Humour (you may have guessed) is a major plus for me, and I’d also like to see some more female writers submitting to ASIM. Check out our submission guidelines and other info about the magazine at

I’m very excited that I’ve just made my first acceptances for my issue of ASIM - stories by Australian authors Robert Cox, Stephen Dedman and Dirk Flinthart.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Welcome to my new web log!

The Cloister is my study/writing room, which is currently wall-to-wall with boxes, papers, books... I'm not the tidiest of people by nature, and I like to have at least twelve dozen things 'right where I can reach them,' which basically means piles of really useful things gathering dust. Still, I have a comfy chair and I love my imac, even if it doesn't entirely work.

The idea behind this weblog is for it to be my 'reading and writing journal' since those activities cover about 80% of my waking hours. Readers of my books/stories can drop in here for updates on my personal writing news, plus comments on what I'm reading, editing and generally doing.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Pre-blog News from the Cloister

1/07/2002: Just got a very weird acceptance from Fiction Inferno - not only are they publishing a story I sent them ages ago, but apparently it is the runner up in their flash fiction competition. Didn’t know I’d entered a competition...

12/06/2002: Back from ConVergence! Had a fabulous weekend, catching up with friends and meeting new people. Absolute highlight was meeting all the people involved with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, an amazing project which has been taking up a lot of my time over the last year. Also, catching up with Chuck McKenzie (only our second meeting, despite us spending the last three years editing a book together) and the RoR women (Maxine McArthur, Rowena “Cory Daniells” Lindquist and Marianne De Pierres, with Margo Lanaghan unfortunately unable to attend) was wonderful. I was so rushed off my feet that I only managed to attend a few readings and a single panel that I was not actually involved with, but I really enjoyed the panel on ‘strong’ female characters (despite too much audience participation) and listened spellbound to Ian Irvine’s reading from his new book, which I only attended by accident!

My own reading (from my new novel in progress) could have gone better, I think, but I made up for it on Monday when I attended the Aurealis readings (v. early in the morning!) and was asked to read something when two of the readers failed to show up. I read my fairy godmother story from ASIM and got some great responses. The comedy panel also went well, I think we managed to say some interesting stuff that wasn’t obviously just plugging our various publications, although that was hard to resist.

The overall theme of the Con for me was definitely sell sell sell! It probably comes from spending so much time in the huckster’s room... we were really gratified by how many people bought AustrAlien Absurdities, Agog and ASIM, particularly those who subscribed! In fact, our absolute favourite people were those who had subscribed before ASIM proved its existence! The Agog/AA launch went brilliantly, lots of wine and book-signing (I managed one mouthful of champagne which was the only alcohol I managed to consume throughout the entire convention!!!). For me the highlight of this event was meeting Chuck’s mum, a lovely lady whom I chatted to for ages, but it was also great to see so many of our authors show up for the party. The ASIM launch was a little different in style, but that seems to have been much appreciated. The costumes and dramatic presentations (mostly entirely unrehearsed) went well, and the music choice of the segue from ASIM launch into masked ball was perfect (thanks Sean!). Our only hitch - realising that having the selling table inside the disco wasn’t the best plan...

Anyway: ConVergence was absolutely the best con I’ve ever been to, staying in the hotel was brilliant (oh look, I’ve just stepped into the lift with Joe and Gay Haldeman), the hotel itself was wonderful with very supportive and enthusiastic staff and really great facilities - particularly the readings lounge which was far more appropriate for the non-guest readers, plus very comfy, and of course, absolute highlight was the position of the hotel, convenient for food (everyone lived on Subway the whole time) and everything else. I’m putting in my membership for Swancon next month, since I’m now totally addicted to conventions, and got so enthusiastic at ConV that I ran around telling everyone that Hobart would be bidding next year for the NatCon 2005. Maybe a silly idea, but it gained quite a bit of momentum, so support Thylacon 2005 and I’ll see everyone next year!

18/4/2002: Cover art for Agog & AustrAlien Absurdities has been uploaded at the Eidolon site!

17/4/2002: My schedule for ConVergence is starting to shape up nicely - as well as the Agog/AustrAlien Absurdities launch and the Andromeda launch, I’ll also be on an SF comdey panel with Chuck McKenzie (author of Worlds Apart) and Simon Haynes (author of Hal Spacejock) and possibly doing a reading as well. Also, with the other women of RoR, I’m participating in a critiquing workshop.

27/2/2002: My story “Cendrillon and the Chromium Prince,” has been accepted for Machinations, a new anthology from the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. I’m doing pretty well with anthologies this year!

9/2/2002: Due to an overseas trip (study-related, not writing-related) I have not had a chance to update my news section until now - since I’m recovering from having my wisdom teeth out, this could be the time. While I was away, “So you want to be a fairy godmother,” was accepted by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine for their first issue and “Delta Void and the Clockwork Man,” was accepted by Agog! I’m particularly pleased about these acceptances, since both publications will be launched at ConVergence in June - including my story in our own AustrAlien Absurdities, that means three publications for me at the same convention. ConVergence is definitely the next big thing I’m looking forward to this year.

26-29/10/2001: The inaugural ROR weekend. This experience was definitely one of the highlights of my writing career to date. In August, five female SF/fantasy writers including myself sent copies of unpublished manuscripts to each other. After three months for reading and critiquing, we met up in Brisbane, drove together out to a collection of huts in the beautiful town of Montville and spent an intense weekend critiquing each other’s work. We learned an awful lot from each other, and all came away with solidly-notated manuscripts to work on. Hopefully we can repeat the experience in later years with similar levels of success, but the first weekend exceeded our greatest expectations and could never be completely replicated.

6/10/2001: “Fairy Tale Blues” accepted by Potato Monkey.

30/9/2001: Performed a reading (various short stories) at the Republic Bar with Dirk Flinthart.

17/08/2001: Four stories (the first four I ever had published!) have been accepted for publication as reprints by Alexandria Digital Literature: “Manipulation,” “Once Upon a Literal Legend,” “The Glamoured Girl,” and “Romancing the WWW.” This is fabulous news! Not only do AlexLit archive stories & novels forever, they also pay royalties based on how many people pay to download the story - one of the few markets that pays royalties for short stories! So if you’re interested in those stories, please go and check them out at the site... not yet... I’ll send an update when they’re online.

12/08/2001: “Black Holes” published at Eotu Ezine, the Sci-Fi issue.

11/08/2001: Finished first draft of Dancing the Green Mist, my first Y/A novel.

10/08/2001: My story “Fairy Tale Blues” was sent back from - sniff. No, I won’t be recording all my rejections here, but I thought it was relevant. Also on this day, I reached 100 submissions for the year (well, technically 103). That’s right, 103 fiction submissions - mostly short stories, one children’s novel, some picture books, but mostly short stories - since January 1. Many of these are pieces that have been rejected 3-4 times and sent to different markets. Still, not bad for a girl who only sent out 9 short pieces last year and had two novels rejected. I seem to be averaging about 1 acceptance for every 10 submissions, which is okay for now. After all, it takes a while for the right story to find the right market. If nothing else, I’m pretty immune to rejection letters now. My attitude is - cool, rejection letter. That means I can send the story elsewhere & bump up my submission total.

Okay, it’s not always cool, but I’m never depressed for long. When you’ve got 38 stories pending at any one time, it’s hard to get glum about one rejection. Or sixty five, which is about my total of rejection letters this year.

28/07/2001: Meeting of the Invisible College. I think this was the best meeting so far - Finchy chose flash fiction as the topic & exercise, and we got through at least 8-9 stories in the whole session, including some that were full length. Not bad considering we almost cancelled the meeting when several people said they couldn’t come. The stories were designed to fit the specs of, a market asking for stories of 150 words or less. Ouch!

05/07/2001: Read “Tasting, the Alien,” on 5UV Writer’s Radio.

16/06/2001: “Faces of the Elit” accepted by Twilight Times, to be published October.

09/06/2001: Ran workshop at Moorilla Estate with Lyn Reeves and Liz Winfield, for young writers. My topic: fantasy writing (of course). We made huge maps (lots of coloured textas) and by the end of each session, every student had location, plot and characters of their own creation, with which to write a story. I got some great ideas myself! Afterwards I started working on my own map (something I never do) of a fantasy world which is all inside walls and ceilings - they have parks and gardens but no sky. It’s all cabaret, circuses, nightclubs and strange, scary people. I’ve already written one story set in this city, “The Bite,” and am working on a second, “Satin Planet.”