Sounding the retreat

Kangaroo at Eumarella Shores

Writing’s a solitary occupation, and it’s easy to lose sight of things when you’re the scribbling phantom locked away in the skull cave. It’s worth sticking your head out once in a while, not only to check in with the society you’re writing about, but to remind yourself that you’re not alone. All those poison pygmy darts — the doubts, the fears, the cliches that just won’t leave your prose alone — aren’t yours alone, and it’s refreshing to hear others going through the same trials.

Which is partly why I’ve just spent a month on the road, road-tripping with writerly pals from Adelaide to Melbourne in time for Worldcon, then flying north to my former home country for my Edge writers group annual retreat, and dipping by Sydney on the way home to schmooze with my stablemates at our agent’s annual seminar and banquet.

Hanging out with writers is fun. It bolsters confidence and stokes ambition, whether over evening meals or at convention panels.

Our retreat this year was at Eumarella Shores (pictures here), an amazing bushland retreat on the bank of a gorgeous lake, where our group was spread amongst some of the best cottages I’ve ever stayed in, convening for superbly catered lunch and dinner and group critique sessions (check out my piece on how to organise your own writing retreat). Sadly, both my beloved and I were suffering plague this year, so the wordage wasn’t great, but the camaraderie was priceless, especially with energetic and insightful mentors such as Rob Shearman and Jack Dann in attendance, and Sean Williams in the mix to boot.

It’s hard to come back to the cave after such shoulder rubbing, but here I am, still flu-addled and looking for words, clinging to the energy of my fellows — successes were marked at Sydney’s shindig, and they proved more than anything the value of perseverance and industry. Write, write, write! But don’t forget to take time to share the love!

Aussiecon4 highs and lows, Voyager blasts off

Cherie, Kylie, Lindy and Amanda keep me company at the signing desk - a kaffee klatsch without the kaffee!

Aussiecon4, the 2010 Worldcon, is over, and I’m home snuffling and coughing with a dose of persistent pre-Worldcon flu, feeling totally knackered but yet energised as well.

This was my first Worldcon and it was thoroughly enjoyable, even with the flu.
Downsides were:

  • Sean Williams being too ill to attend.
  • Ellen Datlow having to leave early due to sickness in the family — all the more poignant for her Hugo win.
  • The Christchurch earthquake was also worrying, a relief that there were no casualties. The Kiwis are bidding to host Worldcon in 2020.
  • Not catching *anything* involving China Mieville.

The program was massive, spread across ground floor auditoriums and an array of rooms on the second floor of the convention and exhibition centre, and it just wasn’t possible to attend everything of interest, nor report everything here. What I did catch was generally informative and at times downright inspiring. I particularly enjoyed hearing Peter Brett (The Painted Man) speak of his “survivor’s guilt” after having his novel picked up while pals were still striving to get theirs on the shelf. I also took heart from Will Elliott’s passion and Fiona Macintosh’s work ethic.

I was chuffed to have people I didn’t know attend my reading and that, despite my hoarse flu voice, they stayed to the end, and was very grateful indeed to have company at the signing desk while the most engaging guest of honour Kim Stanley Robinson made the day for a very long line of fans indeed. His self-interview, complete with coat on-and-off, was a delight. Kyla Ward, who organised the horror stream in which I took part, proved exceptional as an organiser — she also masterminded the horror ball that I sadly failed to attend, though I heard gushing reports. I also really enjoyed talking vampires with a bunch of clued up and inquisitive teenagers and talking taboos with Richard Harland, Deborah Biancotti and Catherynne Valente.

UK writer Robert Shearman performed a most entertaining reading of a rather poignant story about a boy and his love of love songs, and Kirstyn’s reading of her story from the Scenes from the Second Storey collection (launched at the con) also drew a pleasing response.

The Hugo awards (full list of winners here) also proved an enjoyable affair, running smoothly and not overlong, with a feeling of camaraderie rather than competition, and absolutely nil ego. MC Garth Nix was, as always, personable and engaging. Lovely to see, amongst others, Aussie artist and con guest of honour Shaun Tan recognised, and to see the splendid movie Moon score a gong.

My appreciation for George RR Martin has also been cemented thanks to his wit and delightful chuckle. (Do read his Fevre Dream if you haven’t already: one of the best vampire books evah!)

At the end of the day, after the launches (yay Angela Slatter and Kaaron Warren’s double launch, complete with publisher Russell Farr in a kilt doing the honours; and the massive collection of Aussie horror in Macabre, amongst others) and parties and panels and awards (some well-earned Ditmars were given out — the full list is here), it was the people who made the convention, and it was amazing bumping into so many friends from throughout Australia and overseas.

Let’s do it again — but not till I’ve had a nap!

There are some pictures at my flickr site.

Voyager going global

Voyager’s 15th birthday party held in conjunction with Aussiecon prompted this (annotated) announcement of a new global (or is that Orbital?) approach to marketing its genre fiction:

“Eos Books, a US imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, will be rebranded as Harper Voyager, joining together with the celebrated Voyager imprints in Australia/New Zealand and the UK. The move is anticipated to create a global genre-fiction powerhouse.
“This move enables us to offer authors a strong global publishing platform when signing with HarperCollins – whether the acquiring editor is in New York, Sydney, or London,’ said Brian Murray, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins Worldwide.
“Two authors, Karen Azinger and David Wellington (writing as David Chandler), have recently been signed and are expected to publish with Harper Voyager and Voyager for a worldwide debut. The Eos imprint will officially change to Harper Voyager starting with the January 2011 hardcover, trade, mass market, e-book, and audio publications.
“The Voyager/Harper Voyager editorial leaders are: executive editor Diana Gill in the US; editorial director Emma Coode in the UK (working with publishing director Jane Johnson); and associate publisher Stephanie Smith in Australia.”

Exciting and interesting stuff with an apparent focus on breaking down the regional publishing territories, or at least making more effort to spread product globally. It’ll be interesting to see the impact this has.

Worldcon/Aussiecon appearances

the darkness withinI’ve scoured the Aussiecon4 program online and come up with these appearances at the convention, at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, for those who might like to catch up (outside of the bar area):

Saturday, Sept 4, 5pm

If anyone has a dusty copy of The Darkness Within lying around they’d like signed (or maybe an anthology such as Dreaming Again), I’ll be in Room 201-02 with pen in hand. (I believe Guest of hHnour Kim Stanley Robinson, amongst others, is also signing at that time.)

Sunday, Sept 5, noon

A reading in Room 215

Sunday, 1pm

Presenting a chat (for teens only) about the evolution of the vampire from Dracula to now, in Room 218.

Sunday, 2pm

I’ll be joining some very cool people indeed to support the anthology Dreaming Again (probably my proudest publishing credit), in Room 211 (keep your eyes, or ears, peeled, as there *might* be an audio version of my story ‘Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn’, available during the con).

Monday, Sept 6, 1pm

Joining a discussion on the taboos in dark fantasy, again with some very cool people, in Room 211.

I’m very happy indeed to be able to support the worldcon through this participation, so I hope some folks can come along to any and all of these: the more input the better 🙂

Kill your darlings aka I’ve got you now, you bastard (I think)

crime scene gifThere’s an axiom in the writing fraternity: Kill your darlings. It might have started with Faulkner or Twain or someone else entirely, but it’s a splendid piece of advice. It’s about not being precious, about letting the text be true to itself and keeping the author’s ego and cleverness the hell out of it. It’s about trimming the fat.

I killed a darling last night. It was the original scene that inspired a short story. It took four days, on and off, to realise it had to go. Four days of staring at a two-thirds finished yarn and wondering how it should end — who was doing what, how should they get what they wanted, who was stopping them, what did it all mean? And the final answer, delivered after numerous endings (amounting to more than 1500 words) had been written and discarded, was that the story had become bigger than that original scene. The pretty prose, the atmosphere, the spiffy dialogue: all surplus to requirements. Gone (or, at least, I confess, some tucked away in the glory box for a possible outing in another, more appropriate story).

And doesn’t it feel good? A bit like dieting like crazy (but, you know, healthily) and finally being able to fit *that* set of clothes.

Funny old game, this writing biz. After not having so much as looked at writing a short story in a couple of years, I’ve knocked over three in the past month with five or six others making wee blots on the drawing board. The first came after a day spent bleeding words over something else: 6000 thousand words downloading in a glorious rush in one day, needing not much more than some tinkering and polishing to reach a state I was happy with. Still haven’t got back to the abandoned idea, and maybe I never will. And since then, two more, squeezed with all the ease and joy of shitting razor blades: a thousand words excised from the overblown second (and I’m still not totally convinced it’s done) and this pesky third one still needing a damn good bit of work to make it shiny. But it’s there — I know how it ends (I’m fairly certain). It makes sense (I think). I’ve got you now, you bastard (I think).

It’s a joyful thing, isn’t it, to take that bare idea — a line of dialogue, a character, a situation — and explore it, tease it out, find out just what it’s all about and if it’s really worth sharing. At least, it is when it’s flowing. Not so much when it’s treacle, an idea that just won’t condense into a usable form. I have pals who hate editing, they find it boring because they already know the story; this is fine, as long as they still do the editing. I enjoy the editing because, whether the story popped out near right or had to be teased and goaded and agonised over, I love watching the raw form take a shape that’s (hopefully) pleasing to the reader’s eye. Even if it means killing your darlings. And maybe, *especially* if it means killing your darlings.

Speaking of short stories…

While I’m banging on about short stories, some folks who can actually write the darn things *really* well are scoring some serious recognition. Check out:

Ticonderoga going large on collections: Lucy Sussex, Felicity Dowker, Sara Douglass and Lezli Robyn slated for future release, with collections from Angela Slatter (one of two from this awesome writer out this year — over-achiever!) and Kaaron Warren being launched in only a few weeks!

Twelfth Planet Press is adding to its enviable catalogue with a collection from Marianne de Pierres.

And Cat Sparks is due to see a hot collection of her shorts entitled The Bride Price on the shelf this year!

These are just some to arrive in my inbox recently; Australia is a hotbed of writing talent at the moment and there are small presses popping up all over the place championing those with the chops. Expect to see plenty of them taking a bow at Aussiecon, where not just collections, but a bunch of drool-worthy anthologies are also slated to be launched.

And now for the long stuff

And while I’m at it, I direct your attention to the Queensland Premier’s literary awards, where spec fic from the likes of Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld makes a big impression in the YA section, and my former workmate and all-round good guy Noel Mengel has been shortlisted in the emerging Queensland author section. w00t!

A collected bargain at Melbourne’s Worldcon

Ticonderoga Publications has announced an awesome pair of launches to be held at Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne in September (it’s the Worldcon, in case you’ve missed the news, so it’s a Very Big Deal). Kaaron Warren, whose novel Slights recently made the long list for the Stoker Awards (w00t! — notice the other Aussies on the list!), and the hugely talented Angela Slatter will both have new collections available — Warren’s second, Slatter’s first. Both promise much goodness, of the unsettling kind. Even if you’re not going to Worldcon — and if not, why the hell not? — you can order the collections online. Should make the next Aurealis Awards for best collection interesting!

Continuum, Slights from Angry Robots, and some vampires

So I’m in post-convention funk, short on sleep and strong on caffeine, a day back at work and wondering where the weekend went. The receipts tell some of the story: cabs, airlines, two dinners at a Chinese restaurant with lots and lots of chilli and an amazing capacity for seating and feeding 17 people at the drop of a hat, Japanese, innumerable coffees at the Lindt cafe and the State Library and that excellent sandwich bar in the Queen Victoria Building and other places besides…

Cat Sparks’ (as always) fun photo diary helps fill in some blanks, too.

So, the event was Continuum 5, held in the basement of the sprawling Mercure hotel complex in Melbourne, with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro as international guest of honour. She was rather grand, too. I enjoyed my vampire panel with her, and taking a new novel in the making for a walk during a reading session on the Sunday. I enjoyed meeting up with a bunch of folks from around the country, seeing Deb Biancotti launch her first anthology and Richard Harland steaming on with Worldshaker … and Kirstyn McDermott landed an award trifecta with her short story “Painlessness”, which had already won an Aurealis and a Ditmar before taking a brand new Chronos.

Next year there will be another Continuum, in February, and in September there will be a grandaddy of conventions, the Worldcon aka Aussiecon 4, also in Melbourne. If you are in Australia and write any kind of spec fic, you really owe it to yourself to be at the Worldcon.

Slights by Kaaron Warren

Slights by Kaaron Warren

On the flight home from Melbourne, I finished Kaaron Warren’s debut novel, Slights. It’s one of the first books to be released under HarperCollins’ new spec fic imprint, Angry Robot. It’s a weird title for an imprint, especially given that Kaaron’s book doesn’t have robots in it, nor any science fiction at all. The SF component of two of the other first four books also seems non-existent. No matter. What matters is that Aussie writer Kaaron’s book is a real gem. Sure, I had a little rant about the number of literal errors — you can’t get away from them these days — but don’t let that distract you. This is a compelling read, even though it’s not exactly express train pace. It’s a steam train of personality and character, wit and dread; such fully realised characters just don’t pop up that often, especially when they’re digging up family secrets in the backyard, pissing off their brother, tormenting all and insundry — and paying a heavy price. I can’t say Stevie is likeable, but her honesty is refreshing, her barbed one-liners engaging, her relationship with and indeed morbid curiosity about death intriguing and just a tad spooky. She namechecks Aussie writers Richard Harland and Robert Hood, too. Cool.

Kaaron has two more books signed to Angry Robot. So what’s to be angry about, huh? You tell me, robot.

Despite the previously mentioned funk, there is no rest for the wicked. I’m up to my jugular in vampires, and will be till Saturday when I present a wee talk at the Logan library’s SF month about the evolution of the vampire, from Byron to, ahem, Twilight.