Honourable mentions by Ellen Datlow

best horror of the year volume 5 edited by ellen datlowEditor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow has released the LOOOOONG list — and it’s true to label, appearing in two pieces (Alexandra to Johnstone, Jones to Yolen) on her blog — to go with the short list of honourable mentions of short stories from 2012, anchored by her Best Horror of the Year Volume 5. The short list appears in the book; the long list doesn’t. Despite the collapse and sale of publisher Night Shade, the book’s listed as available on Amazon.

So why am I mentioning this? Because Datlow has seen fit to list three of my yarns in the long list — ‘The Kiss’ from Tales from the Bell Club, ‘Last Boat to Eden’ from Surviving the End, and ‘Breaking the Wire’, from Aurealis #47 — and ‘Eden’ made it through to the short list.

There is a whole posse of Aussie talent in the lists, and stories by Margo Lanagan and Terry Dowling made it into the collection.

To get a pat on the back from anyone is always a warm and fuzzy moment; to get it from someone with Datlow’s pedigree, and knowing just how widely she reads to compile these lists, well, that’s very nice indeed.

It’s especially cool to see ‘The Kiss’ get a mention: writing in the voice of a turn-of-the-last century Austrian suffragette was quite fun, and one of the first yarns I’ve written involving historical figures. If you go to the link above, you can read the little sucker in the ‘look inside’ feature!

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Ticonderoga’s recommended reading list: we have squee!

years best fantasy and horror 2012Just a wee note to say, yay, ‘Mornington Ride’ from Epilogue and ‘Breaking the Wire’ from Aurealis #47 have been included in the recommended reading list from Ticonderoga Publications’ forthcoming Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012. ‘Last Boat to Eden’, from Surviving the End, is included in the volume (I blogged the full contents of this packed volume here). My ego aside, it’s a good place to start if you’re looking to take the pulse of short Aussie dark fiction. The book is available for pre-order.

Greetings from Ballaratia

gargoyles at the front door

Five weeks or thereabouts since this blog troubled the interwebs. I guess moving home and waiting … and waiting … for the internet to be connected will do that.

So what’s happened since the boxes went into the truck and came out the other side, here in steamy Ballarat, in the shade of a hill I’ve christened Wendouree Tor?

Well, my pals The Isle have released a funky little ep, Moment, offering a nice mix of electro stylings. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, ain’t half bad if the streaming’s anything to judge by. How to Destroy Angels have released their first album, Welcome Oblivion, and it’s a cruisy end to the world if ever there was one.

We saw Einstuerzende Neubauten mix-cartons, and it was a crack, seeing them producing all those sounds from what looked like an abandoned dairy farm on the Palace’s stage. I really dig their gentler stuff, but it’s quite amazing how they manage to make music out of all the rattling and banging. And singer Blixa has an amazing voice.

Tonight, we anticipate hearing new Tea Party material. Oh gosh!

Elsewhere, Aurealis magazine is releasing its duo series with publisher Dirk Strasser and the inimitable Jack Dann leading off. The Aurealis Awards date has been announced — May 18 — with a record field under consideration. Should be a hoot. And the Ditmars and Chronos awards are now open for nominations.

Very pleasing to see the Queensland Literary Awards hitting their stride, too, attracting serious financial support and — gasp! — the State Government funding charmingly parochial fellowships. This from the dudes who axed the awards as their first act in power. Interestingly, a Queensland writer was awarded a life achievement by the Australia Council late last year: Herb Wharton got his start by entering the David Unaipon Award, one of those cancelled by the government and saved by the new awards. Did the AC draw attention to this? You betcha. Because you can’t tell someone like Premier Campbell Newman they’ve acted like a twat enough.

But what about The (other) Rat? There are more stars here and far less buses than in the city. We’ve found the Bunnings and the supermarket and a half-decent chipper and have been very pleased indeed to be in the delivery zone of Pizza Capers (bourbon chicken FTW!). The Courier lands on the front lawn each morning and we scavenge restaurants and events and community groups and places of interest and stick them on the fridge. One day, their time will come.

But first, there’s the last of the boxes, the matter of central heating (winter, it is coming…), acclimatising to the commute and starting to think it might be time to resume the edit of the work in progress. And then there’s that overgrown back yard …

Snapshot 2012: Rjurik Davidson

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoRJURIK Davidson is a freelance writer and associate editor of Overland magazine. Rjurik has written short stories, essays, reviews and screenplays. PS Publishing published his collection, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. His novel, Unwrapped Sky, will be published by Tor in 2012. He writes reviews of speculative fiction for the Age newspaper, film reviews for several magazines and has a regular column in Overland. Rjurik’s screenplay The Uncertainty Principle (co-written with Ben Chessell) is currently under development with German company Lailaps Films. He has been short-listed for and won a number of awards. He can be found at www.rjurikdavidson.blogspot.com and has a blog on the Overland website called Against Reality.

You have a collection and, in the pipeline, novels set in your world of minotaurs and sirens: how have you approached such mythic creatures in your fiction?
As a child I read the Greek myths and, around the age of six, my imagination was captured by the ruins of Ancient Rome. There’s always been something transcendent about myth, which is why they still resonate with us. But in my stories, I wanted to approach the mythology — minotaurs, sirens, cyclops and gorgons — with a modern sensibility. That is, I wanted to keep the sense of myth and the mythic, but place it within an industrial world. The minotaur myth, for example, is sometimes said to be about technology: Theseus finds his way through the minotaur’s labyrinth with a ball of string. In a sense, ‘The Passing of the Minotaurs’ <read the short story at SciFi.com> — which is an extract from an early section of Unwrapped Sky — is a rewriting of this myth in an industrial capitalist world. The minotaurs are undone by modernity — by the power of commodification, if you like, in a similar way to many old and beautiful things in our world (old buildings or old forests, for example).

This fantasy world, and the city of Caeli-Amur, might be thought of as city a bit like Rome or Turin in the 1920s. In Caeli-Amur, there’s industrialism, a rising working class, a strange bureaucratic capitalism, but there’s also the remnants of an older less developed society, and even further back the ruined remnants of a more advanced society. So the mythology all takes place in a world where there’s a great deal of of change. There’s social turbulence. No one quite knows where it’s all headed. It is a world where ‘all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned’ as Marx once described it. What could be more profane than the death of a minotaur and the use of its body parts as commodities?


Have the short stories been a way of exploring the world in preparation for the longer works, or were the novels always the end goal?
I love short stories. In many ways, they’re more interesting than novels. You can be more experimental and you can be more adventurous in content. Quite often, the things which become famous at novel-length are first done in short story form (think of Gibson, for example). The stories gain a certain notoriety and this encourages the writer to develop those sorts of stories at longer length. One of the reasons is that novels have a slightly longer shelf-life, and there’s a little more money in them. That’s the way it happened with me, anyway. People liked Caeli-Amur and the stories set there, so I thought, right, time to write a novel set there. Still, I’ll always write short stories, just as I’ll always write essays and scripts and other things.


You are an editor on a literary magazine and you’re a Ditmar winner for best new talent: what’s your take on the literature/genre divide?
Oh, I have several responses, all pretty contradictory. My first response is that the division is false. Writers like Atwood, Ishiguru, Houllebecq and Winterson are clearly writing SF. On the other hand, there are plenty of SF writers writing very ‘literary’ science fiction: Gene Wolfe or M John Harrison, for example. Partly the division is invented by the marketing departments of publishing companies, partly there’s an inherited prejudice against SF in the ‘mainstream’ (which I find ignorant and repulsive), but there’s also quite often a self-reinforced ghettoisation from the SF community also.

I find it all pretty frustrating because there are all sorts of deleterious effects of the division. SF writers are unfairly ignored and ‘literary’ writers writing SF too-often claimed as ‘original’ when they’re really borrowing tropes that have been around for decades. At Overland we try to be inclusive: we’ve had special SF editions, publish SF stories and articles, but I do feel fairly sad that the SF community pretty much ignores us — something reflected not only in terms of our submissions but reflected in things like awards, links to our online articles and so on.

Another passed-down quirk of the division between the literary and SF worlds is the over-emphasis on plot-driven narrative in genre. Genre writers, readers and editors probably do want more ‘action’ than the literary world (which could often do with more action!). I’m not sure that’s healthy. Having said that, the SF community is a really welcoming and in the end, in terms of fiction, that’s where I happily exist.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
There’s a bunch of really great Australian SF writers. In fact, I’m amazed by the talent in Australian SF. I’ve loved stories by James Bradley, Lisa Hannett, Angela Slatter. But you know, I’m constantly surprised by the number of new writers coming though. And then there are other wonderful writers who have been around a while: Kirstyn McDermott, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti, Trent Jamieson and so on. I might say that the loss of Paul Haines leaves a massive hole in the SF scene.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I’m not sure I could answer that. I’ve been a bit lost in novel-writing. But things seem to be coming along okay. The Aurealis Awards I went to last year were vibrant and professional, and the writers coming through, as I mentioned before, are talented. The end of Clarion South is a pretty big blow, I think, and there’s the ongoing ‘digital’ revolution (Aurealis is now mostly in e-book format).

The challenges here are going to be the challenges the whole publishing industry is facing. No one can be sure quite where we’ll end up, but it seems likely that there will be less money around, and fewer readers (the statistics show that the average reader age is increasing). None of this is great for writers or publishers and we can expect that as an money-making industry, publishing might be on its last legs.

At Overland we’ve been debating this for some time (on the website, in public forums and in the magazine’s pages) and some of us think that the solution may be to return to a more, for want of a better term, ‘social-democratic’ system, where the government funds an independent publishing house (or houses?) in the way it funds something like the ABC.

In this sense, the challenges of publishing are similar to those of quality Australian TV drama, which can’t compete with international TV without stepping out of the system of commercialism. SF steps out of these bounds with labour-of-love small presses (which are wonderful), but they’re not a way for anyone to earn a basic living.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2012: Simon Brown

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoSIMON Brown started writing fiction every day at the age of 14, which means he’s been a writer for more than 40 years. He’s had six novels published in Russia, which means his brag shelf has books he’s written that he can’t read. He currently lives in Thailand with his wife, who is an English teacher in Phuket, and his two school-age children.

PanMacmillan, under their Momentum imprint, have just released e-book versions of his previous fantasy trilogy, the Chronicles of Kydan. He’s working on three different books – a young adult/crossover horror, the first book in a new fantasy trilogy and a non-fiction book – because he can’t make up his mind which one to concentrate on.


You’ve been living overseas for the past few years. Grist for the writer’s mill or one huge distraction?
Living overseas is a great way to concentrate the mind on what you’ve left behind, at least initially. After four years in Thailand, I find that some of the things about living in a different country and a different culture are finally starting to get under my skin and become a part of me. It’s a nice feeling. But when I look up and towards the horizon, it’s always towards Australia. I think my time here in Thailand will start seeping into my work about the time I come home. That’s the way of things.


Momentum has re-released one of your series as e-books. What’s been happening to let readers know they’re available?
Mark Harding at Momentum Books has been great at getting the Chronicles of Kydan some attention. It was recently one of the books of the week on Google Play, for example, and the Momentum site has a piece by me on writing the trilogy. Gillian Polack has also kindly let me blog about the trilogy on her site. I just have to save up for an e-book reader now so I can download them myself. Imagine carrying hundreds of books in your pocket. Weird.


Can you tell us more about what’s inspired the latest projects?
The young adult/crossover horror novel, based on a short story I wrote called ‘Water Babies’ (published in Agog! Smashing Stories), is currently with a publisher, so until I get word back it’s difficult to say where it’s going.

The idea for the new fantasy trilogy I’m working on was inspired by reading about the importance of trade in ancient and medieval societies, something usually ignored in most fantasies. Since it’s just kicking off, I’m not sure how it’ll pan out at this point, but I’m enjoying booting ideas around.

The non-fiction book I hope to co-author with a good friend who is also a great writer is about the development of quantum theory. The book will concentrate on the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927, which featured an amazing array of scientists who were also larger-than-life personalities.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been so detached from the Australian scene over the past four years that I’ve read very little home-grown fiction. I did manage to read and enjoy the first book of Sean and Garth’s Troubletwisters and Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan (we’re allowed to poach Scott, aren’t we? (definitely: his snapshot his here — JN).


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction (or the industry?) in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Difficult to assess from a distance, but surely the big development not just over the past two years but the past decade has been the increase in the number of Australian specfic writers and the quality of their work. I think Clarion South has a lot to do with this (and by implication Clarion South’s organisers), as well as the continued and it seems to me against-all-odds existence of short fiction markets such as Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

The other big change has been the slow but inevitable move in Australia from ink to phosphor dot and LED, including e-books and online magazines. We’ll have to wait a year or 10 before properly assessing what effects this has had on writers and writing. If I’m still around, feel free to ask me again in 2022.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2012: Patrick O’Duffy

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoMELBOURNE-based writer Patrick O’Duffy has been writing since he was a little kid; he’s been writing stuff that’s good enough for others to read for, well, less time than that. He has been a freelance RPG writing for companies such as White Wolf and Green Ronin, where he got to work on the revival of Lynn Abbey’s Thieves’ World setting.

Since moving to Melbourne from Brisbane several years ago, he’s given up game writing and focused more on shorter-form fiction, which he publishes independently as e-books. They include the dark fantasy novella Hotel Flamingo and the horror anthology Godheads, plus his new crime novella The Obituarist. Upcoming work includes another anthology (this time of flash fiction), a sequel to The Obituarist, a YA fantasy novella and a serious literary novel that he’ll be trying to get published through the usual channels.

All this and more can be found at his website, www.patrickoduffy.com, where he also blogs about writing and reading and similar things. Sometimes there are pictures.


Your previous e-books have been genre-blurring horror-tinged tales. What influenced you to head into crime territory with The Obituarist?
I think every story has a core that can be expressed in a number of ways, and that the best way to find the right expression is to start with the core and work outwards to the story, rather than work from the story and try to find its core. So while I’ve done a lot of horror and fantasy writing – and I’m going to do more – I’m always read to follow an idea down a different path.

The Obituarist is a story about the way technology changes the way we live and in doing so changes some of the ways we think about death. You can write a story like that as speculative fiction, certainly, and I think there are some great paths it could take – in fact, some of my earliest thinking on the ‘social media undertaker’ concept was along spec-fic lines. But to write a story about how technology affects us right now, rather than how it might affect us in the future, I had to keep things grounded in the real and the modern day. And if I’m going to do that, well, a crime story lets me have some fun with the concept and include some chase scenes and gruesome deaths. That’s a win in my book.

What’s the most challenging or annoying element to publishing an e-book, and the greatest joy?
The challenging part is the part that comes after publishing – trying to get people to hear about it and to consider reading it. There’s so much out there at the moment and more every day, especially independently published ebooks. Some are very good and a lot more are very bad, but good and bad get just as much attention and seem pretty much the same to buyers. To stand out you need to spend as much or more time promoting your work than writing something new; you have to use word-of-mouth, push books at reviewers, monitor social media for opportunities.

I find that challenging. It turns me from a writer into a publisher, a publicist, a marketer. None of which are roles I particularly want to fill, but the alternative is having my books vanish without trace as soon as they’re released. Which I don’t really want, oddly enough. So I do my best to be honest about what I’m doing, to stop short of spamming people with constant ads for my stuff and to genuinely share the passion I have for writing with others.

As for joy, well, I think a lot of indie authors get great joy from maintaining control over their work, and not having to concede to the demands of publishers or editors. For me, though, it’s the immediacy and the freedom to experiment with extent, form or structure. I like the way that I can take a finished, edited manuscript and have it up on sale 10 minutes later. And, yes, then have to tweak the file to get it right and upload it again, but the principle is sound. I like writing novellas and short fiction and having an avenue to publish them even though they’re difficult to make financially viable in print. There’s room to try things in e-publishing, because even if you won’t make money you also won’t lose very much, and sometimes it’s acceptable to spend a few hundred dollars to do something you believe in.

How has your experience writing role-playing games informed your fiction writing?
Primarily it’s taught me about the importance of positioning the things that matter in a story – whether those are plot elements or core themes – at the centre of the story and making sure that the rest of the material revolves around those points. RPG settings tend to be filled with tiny little bits, like plot hooks and non-player characters and Sudden Looming Dangers. It can be a lot of fun to think up things like that, but it’s easy to make them too self-contained – to come up with, say, some kind of political intrigue that is all about three NPCs, or a terrifying dragon that stays in a cave scheming and never comes out. Things like that are interesting in concept but dead boring in play because they don’t contain a space for the players’ characters to become pivotal parts of the story. World building for its own sake can be fun, but a big part of successful RPG setting design is making sure that everything in that world can matter to the players, even if it doesn’t right away.

To extend that concept over to fiction writing, I always try to identify the important things in a story – the main characters, obviously, but also themes and motifs and the like – and make sure that every event and turn and additional character in the story connects directly to those things. The Obituarist, for instance, is a story about death and identity as well as a crime story. That’s the core – two themes and a set of genre markers. So everything starts from that basis, every scene needs to be relevant to at least part of that core, and everything has to have a hook or angle that directly draws in the main character, social media undertaker Kendall Barber.

That’s not exactly an insight that’s unique to RPGs. But writing those – and running and playing them – is what really drove it home to me.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Most of the Australian work I like tends to be either literary fiction or crime fiction. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because the Australian voice lends itself well to both introspection on our place in the world and violence without proper thought of consequences. Or maybe it’s because I don’t spend enough time looking at Australian speculative fiction. That’s probably more likely.

In any event, the Australian books I’ve really loved of late include Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing, Nicki Greenberg’s Hamlet, Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore and Truth and Benjamin Law’s The Family Law.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
This is another point where I have to confess ignorance.

Actually, no, wait, there is something I’ve noticed – the degree to which Australian spec-fic is moving online. There are obvious changes like Aurealis becoming an e-book periodical, but I’m also seeing a lot more independent and small e-books coming, such as Alan Baxter’s Darkest Shade of Grey, which The Penny Red Papers published as both a free website and a cheap e-book.

The difficult part sometimes is knowing that these are Australian works, because the internet puts them right alongside American and British works and presents them as equals. Well, in theory. In practice, e-book readers still gravitate to writers they know, and Australian writers have to work hard to gain some visibility from international readers who might then recommend their books to their peers. It’s still not automatic, but it’s easier than it used to be.

And that’s something, right?

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

 

Calling out for best of 2011, and launching Anywhere But Earth

Ticonderoga Publications have opened for submissions to their next year’s best of Australian and New Zealand fantasy and horror. Stories published this year are eligible; deadline to sub is January 20.

Anywhere But Earth, Coeur de Lion’s science fiction anthology in which I’ve gone all godbothering vampire conquistador, is launching at a spec fic fest in Sydney in November — sad to miss that. The day includes an opportunity to pitch to ‘an industry professional’.

And there’s more about the e-format for Aurealis at the Aurealis website. Looks as if my Aussie werewolf yarn will be available in the Feb or March issue, which is, I believe, still going to be free to download.

Oh, oh: Louise Cusack is returning to the world of MS assessments — briefly. Catch her while you can; she gives great feedback.