GenreCon — worth doing all over again

genrecon logo

So we’re back home, and now that the work has been caught up on — well, kind of — it’s worth reflecting on the good oil that came from GenreCon in Sydney this weekend.

Twas an intimate gathering of writers from across the spectrum of crime, romance and spec fic — a melding of minds, techniques, loves and aspirations. And there were agents and publishers (Hachette, HarperVoyager, Momentum, Xoum, Clan Destine, Dark Prints … to name a few) with an interest in those genres. There were international guests Ginger Clark and Sarah Wendell and Joe Abercrombie:

Ginger let us know about the tough times in publishing and how agents are stepping up to fill the gaps left by publishers, in terms of editing, marketing, production … the line is blurring, the publishers cash-strapped and unable to offer the full suite of resources that has, in the past, made them such a powerful cog in the publishing wheel.

Sarah addressed author platform — the pros and cons of various social media, the importance of politeness — be a person, she said; converse, don’t declare.

And Joe: he’s a damn funny, easy-going fantasy writer who seems just a touch bemused to be selling oodles, but highly appreciative, to be sure. It’s all about getting down and dirty with the characters for him; gritty realism over shiny heroics, though he admits there’s room for both, and more, in fantasy’s huge field.

There was pitching for those with something to pitch — a 70 per cent hit rate for call backs shows some serious quality in the offing, and of the 30 per cent that dipped out, there was a praise for the pitch, even if the actual book didn’t hit that particular agent or publisher’s want list.

The panels were compelling, ranging from industry to craft to workshop topics — Peter M Ball’s business model for writers gave me pause for thought.

LA Larkin described plot as skeleton, characters as flesh and mood as blood: I like that, as you might expect.

There was an awesome debate between planners and pantsers: there was a symbolic glass of water, and a smooch, some of the best insults since Monty Python …

There was catching up and meeting social media pals, making some new friendships and reinforcing some existing ones. It was relaxed but draining. There was morning and afternoon tea and lunch as well, all of which enhanced the social aspect of the event.

As usual with conventions, the hotel didn’t quite come to grips with the bar situation, but the staff were wonderful and, from this outsiders’ viewpoint, apart from the race day madness in the bar, all went to plan.

Martin Livings launched his collection, Living with the Dead, as part of an Australian Horror Writers Association presentation, one of four by various genre groups.

The opening night cocktail party was a hoot of an ice breaker, and it sounded as if we’d missed out by skipping the banquet and a presentation of romance titles, one featuring a platypus that created quite the stir.

The good news: plans are afoot for GenreCon 2013, to be held in Brisbane. The calendar is richer for it.

  • In the aftermath of GenreCon, Conflux 9 — Canberra’s science fiction and fantasy convention, also the natcon for 2013 — has announced a pitching opportunity with Voyager’s Deonie Fiford. This is in addition to already announced opportunities with Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne. Noice. I’m really looking forward to getting back to Conflux, which has never failed to entertain.
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    Things to do in Melbourne #6: get in the Brunswick Street groove

    polly cocktail barMelbourne’s Brunswick Street is one of happening precincts where sub-cultures come together and drink coffee — possibly with soy milk. We had a taste test last night, hitting a couple of hot spots: Brunswick Street Gallery, Polly, Polyster records and books, and Grub Street Bookshop. Ah, kulcha!

    The gallery is established in a three-storey house and boasts narrow stairs and two floors of exhibition rooms of varying colour, lighting and space. Last night’s selection of opening exhibits was reasonably eclectic: a photographic display of the zodiac using friends of the photographer and another showcasing the female form in a largely empty room; pop art protests; still lifes perhaps aimed at the cafe set; a projected installation; big photos of kids in cages with A Message; an ode to Kodachrome using a Chinese scene. My favourite showing, though, displayed in a delightfully red room with defunct fireplace where its black and white drawings really popped, was Transform by Hannah Mueller: her pictures had narrative, dimension due the overlaying of cutouts, and lots of skeletons and other repeating motifs, including birds, vivisection and masks. Mueller’s bio, if I remember it accurately, said she was a Sydneysider still at art college or uni, in which case, whoa! Sadly, no web presence that I could find to point you to (I don’t think this Hannah is the one in Assassin’s Creed, though it might explain some stuff!), and the BSG website is kind of obtuse and annoying.

    Anyway, within staggering distance of the gallery and on opposite sides of the street are the two Polyster stores, one dealing in alternative books — lots of tattoos and art, social commentary and Interesting Stuff, and the other in alternative cds and vinyl. Nearby is Grub, complete with secondhand bookstore smell and narrow aisles, a minuscule genre fiction section but a truly drool-worthy non-fiction section heavy on the arts and the humanities.

    The jewel in the crown of last night’s stroll was Polly. Oh, Polly! With its concrete floor and red velvet couches, its classy nekkid ladies upon the stressed red walls, its funky brass handles on the door of the loos, and its separate smoking antechamber at the front. It offers a fine array of absinthe and cocktails, and the tastiest little $6 pizzas, and pretty darn good service, too. Its decadent lavishness would suggest it to be the natural environment of a goth/burlesque crowd, but I think the hipsters might’ve outpriced them. I haven’t been in town long enough to know the tides of the sub-culture drift. Regardless, it’s a comfy space and one of my favourite Melburnian drinking holes so far.

    Independent Literary Awards

    Some recent writerly chat about the benefit of getting your book reviewed in the blogosphere, as opposed to trying to get mainstream media such as newspapers to show interest, has been given some extra pause for thought by the announcement of this year’s Independent Literary Awards. When I first saw the title, I thought it was awards for books published by independent publishers, but no, the independent refers to the judges themselves: bloggers. Bloggers with blogs concerned primarily with books. Readers, in fact. Avid ones. Not writers, not publishers or publicists, but the folks who we write books for. (Note: there is a conference coming up in Brisbane devoted entirely to readers.)

    The beauty, and perhaps it’s a two-edged beauty, as with POD and e-pub, of the internet is that anyone can not only have an opinion, but they can voice it. And unlike newspapers, for instance, there are very few gatekeepers on an indie blog. Biased? Parochial? Slaveringly devoted? It’s all out there, and it’s up to the reader to read between the lines: why is this person saying this? Is it fair? Is it informative? I like to think that, in both blogs and publishing, the quality will rise to the surface. Call me naive.

    This is the technological age where we see reviews being used, not just by readers wanting to pass judgement, but by those looking for political clout. We’ve seen this in an ugly form, where readers sacrifice the reputation and skill of writers to protest against the price of e-books — something over which the author has, unless self-publishing, got very little if any control. (cf the Jacqueline Howett debacle, covered neatly by Kirstyn McDermott here.)

    Times, they are indeed a’changing…

    But back to business: the Independent Literary Awards, now in its second year, shows a new flexing of muscle from the ranks of not just fandom, but a rising and genre-spanning sector of the publicity machine. And these guys are taking it seriously — the list of last year’s winners shows that with a worthy to-read list. It makes sense; literary discourse is increasingly moving online, where it can become not just an essay, but a discussion. Look at the number of podcasts nominated in recent Australian spec fic award shortlists, for instance (Alan Baxter provides a neat overview here). The ILAs are juried by lit-minded bloggers, and accept nominations (Sep-Dec 2011) only from their peers — you have to pass their muster as a lit blogger (‘independent’ from the publishing business) to be considered eligible to nominate. Guidelines are on the website. It’s a step towards recognition and professionalism in what is still, to some extent, frontier territory. Good luck to them!

    Aurealis Awards finalists announced

    The finalists for Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards have been announced. The Aurealis Awards recognise excellence by Australian writers and editors across the spectrum of fantastic fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror and all points in between. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony in Sydney on May 21. The judges had a bumper year to contend with — I judged for anthologies and collections, so I have an inkling of the array of quality shorts the other panels had to choose from — and the lists show some wonderful diversity, with newcomers rubbing shoulders with much-published authors, and a self-published fantasy novel making the final running, which is great to see. And of course, also great to see is Kirstyn’s Madigan Mine in the shortlist for horror novel, along with the most deserving Death Most Definite, by Trent Jamieson, and Jason Fischer’s After the World: Gravesend.

    2010 Aurealis Awards – Finalists
    CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through words)
    Grimsdon, Deborah Abela, Random House
    Ranger’s Apprentice #9: Halt’s Peril, John Flanagan, Random House
    The Vulture of Sommerset, Stephen M Giles, Pan Macmillan
    The Keepers, Lian Tanner, Allen & Unwin
    Haggis MacGregor and the Night of the Skull, Jen Storer & Gug Gordon, Aussie Nibbles (Penguin)

    CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through pictures)
    Night School, Isobelle Carmody (writer) & Anne Spudvilas (illustrator), Penguin Viking
    Magpie, Luke Davies (writer) & Inari Kiuru (illustrator), ABC Books (HarperCollins)
    The Boy and the Toy, Sonya Hartnett (writer) & Lucia Masciullo (illustrator), Penguin Viking
    Precious Little, Julie Hunt & Sue Moss (writers) & Gaye Chapman (illustrator), Allen & Unwin
    The Cloudchasers, David Richardson (writer) & Steven Hunt (illustrator), ABC Books (HarperCollins)

    YOUNG ADULT Short Story
    Inksucker, Aidan Doyle, Worlds Next Door, Fablecroft Publishing
    One Story, No Refunds, Dirk Flinthart, Shiny #6, Twelfth Planet Press
    A Thousand Flowers, Margo Lanagan, Zombies Vs Unicorns, Allen & Unwin
    Nine Times, Kaia Landelius & Tansy Rayner Roberts, Worlds Next Door, Fablecroft Publishing
    An Ordinary Boy, Jen White, The Tangled Bank, Tangled Bank Press

    YOUNG ADULT Novel
    Merrow, Ananda Braxton-Smith, black dog books
    Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey, Allen & Unwin
    The Midnight Zoo, Sonya Hartnett, Penguin
    The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher, Doug MacLeod, Penguin
    Behemoth (Leviathan Trilogy Book Two), Scott Westerfeld, Penguin

    BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOK/ GRAPHIC NOVEL
    Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Nicki Greenberg, Allen & Unwin
    EEEK!: Weird Australian Tales of Suspense, Jason Paulos et al, Black House Comics
    Changing Ways Book 1, Justin Randall, Gestalt Publishing
    Five Wounds: An Illustrated Novel, Jonathan Walker & Dan Hallett, Allen & Unwin
    Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators, Rocky Wood & Glenn Chadbourne, McFarlane & Co.

    BEST COLLECTION
    The Library of Forgotten Books, Rjurik Davidson, PS Publishing
    Under Stones, Bob Franklin, Affirm Press
    Sourdough and Other Stories, Angela Slatter, Tartarus Press
    The Girl With No Hands, Angela Slatter, Ticonderoga Publications
    Dead Sea Fruit, Kaaron Warren, Ticonderoga Publications

    BEST ANTHOLOGY
    Macabre: A Journey Through Australia’s Darkest Fears, edited by Angela Challis & Dr Marty Young, Brimstone Press
    Sprawl, edited by Alisa Krasnostein, Twelfth Planet Press
    Scenes from the Second Storey, edited by Amanda Pillar & Pete Kempshall, Morrigan Books
    Godlike Machines, edited by Jonathan Strahan, SF Book Club
    Wings of Fire, edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon, Night Shade Books

    HORROR Short Story
    Take the Free Tour, Bob Franklin, Under Stones, Affirm Press
    Her Gallant Needs, Paul Haines, Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press
    The Fear, Richard Harland, Macabre: A Journey Through Australia’s Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press
    Wasting Matilda, Robert Hood, Zombie Apocalypse!, Constable & Robinson Ltd
    Lollo, Martin Livings, Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, Apex Publishing

    HORROR Novel
    After the World: Gravesend, Jason Fischer, Black House Comics
    Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson, Orbit (Hachette)
    Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott, Pan Macmillan

    FANTASY Short Story
    The Duke of Vertumn’s Fingerling, Elizabeth Carroll, Strange Horizons
    Yowie, Thoraiya Dyer, Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press
    The February Dragon, LL Hannett & Angela Slatter, Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga Publications
    All the Clowns in Clowntown, Andrew McKiernan, Macabre: A Journey Through Australia’s Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press
    Sister, Sister, Angela Slatter, Strange Tales III, Tartarus Press

    FANTASY Novel
    The Silence of Medair, Andrea K Höst, self-published
    Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson, Orbit (Hachette)
    Stormlord Rising, Glenda Larke, HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)
    Heart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier, Pan Macmillan
    Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts, HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)

    SCIENCE FICTION Short Story
    The Heart of a Mouse, K.J. Bishop, Subterranean Online (Winter 2010)
    The Angaelian Apocalypse, Matthew Chrulew, The Company Articles Of Edward Teach/The Angaelian Apocalypse, Twelfth Planet Press
    Border Crossing, Penelope Love, Belong, Ticonderoga Publications
    Interloper, Ian McHugh, Asimovs (Jan 2011)
    Relentless Adaptations, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press

    SCIENCE FICTION Novel
    Song of Scarabaeous, Sara Creasy, EOS Books
    Mirror Space, Marianne de Pierres, Orbit (Hachette)
    Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres, Orbit (Hachette)

    Brisbane Madigan Mine signing

    kirstyn reading from Scenes from the Second Storey at Aussiecon 4
    Kirstyn and I will be at Brisbane’s Pulp Fiction in Edward St from noon on Wednesday (Sept 15) where she will be signing Madigan Mine. She also has stories in the anthologies Macabre and Scenes from the Second Storey, both launched at this month’s Aussiecon4 (the World Science Fiction Convention). Please do pop in to say hello if you are able 🙂

    Writing space – a QWC blog tour

    I consider myself to be a full-time Melburnian since November, when the move into my fiancee’s rental had been accomplished and my car was parked in the driveway.

    At the end of November, we were given notice that our house was to be sold and we’d need a new abode. The nest, so recently feathered, was to be torn down, figuratively if not literally.

    So it’s apt that the Queensland Writers Centre has asked me to profile my writing space as part of a blog tour: a little slice of space and time, recorded on the interwebs. This is the workroom. It’s a shared office, poor Kirstyn having surrendered her haven in my favour, so that I could set up the desktop. The result is a gloriously messy meld of her stuff and mine.

    jason nahrung's writing desk

    Some of the features:

    The desktop PC. I don’t mind writing on a laptop, but I prefer the solidity of the PC, especially for editing. It’s got everything on it — email and old files and a bunch of RAM — and a full-size keyboard with all the keys in the right place. Stuck to its side is a picture I took of a sunset over the farm on which I grew up — my heart’s home.

    The CD player. I love writing with music playing. It’s part mood-maker, part white noise generator. The caveat is that it must, for the most part, be familiar, so it can indeed fade into the background once I’ve got the groove.

    Sekhmet and friends. One of the things Kirstyn didn’t have to move in the office when I merged in was her Egyptian stuff. I’ve always been interested in the ancient place, with a special affinity for Sekhmet (especially since a visit to Karnak). I’ve got a couple of figurines of her and the great scribe Thoth watching over the keyboard.

    The screen saver. This changes, but this one is a picture of New Orleans’ French Quarter, taken from the Algiers ferry. If the farm is my heart’s home, the Vieux Carre could well be my soul’s home. It’s my most favourite of cities.

    So that’s the den. But there’s more to writing space than where the words hit the page.

    park gates

    Our abode, about to be vacated, is near several small parks that have provided much-needed respite from the four walls and screen. One has these amazing gateposts and a leafy path, the other is an ‘urban forest’: an overly sculpted strip of scrub flanked by houses on both sides, with a couple of muddy ponds supporting ducks and a bunch of other birdlife. To stretch the knees, feel the breeze and the sun or, occasionally, the coming rain wet on the wind, and allow the ideas and characters to jumble around in free-thought has become one of my favourite parts of the process.

    duck pond

    Now there’s a new park to be explored and a new desk waiting bound in cardboard in the garage. We’re hoping to have room enough for both of us to have our own dedicated writing space in the new house. For now, though, I’d better go make use of this one while I can.

    This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening February to April 2010. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog.

    more Angry Robots

    Two out of four ain’t bad, neh?

    HarperCollins’ new spec fic imprint, Angry Robot, has released four books to launch itself, showing a wide scope. There’s Aussie Kaaron Warren’s Slights (which I’ve reviewed here previously), Chris Roberson’s Book of Secrets, Tim Waggoner’s Nekropolis and Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland.

    moxyland book cover, by Lauren Beukes

    Beukes, a South African, riffs off that country’s socio-political injustices with her near-future, Orwellian vision. The tale is told through the viewpoints of four characters, each giving an insight into different levels of that society: the rebels, the corporate ladder climbers, the celebrity blogger, and a dysfunctional artist caught up in the latest corporate skullduggery.
    The story unfolds at a pedestrian pace and never really accelerates towards a climax, but the characters are effective and Beukes’ world is wonderfully drawn. The conclusion is gorgeous, for a cynic such as myself.
    Unlike some others in the Angry Robot range, the text is delightfully clean of typos, perhaps thanks in part to Beukes’ background in journalism (ah, those heady days when sloppy work could be remedied by a whack to the back of the head with a Concise Oxford, or perhaps a tap with a Strunk & White).

    book of secrets by chris roberson

    Roberson, who I had the pleasure to meet at World Fantasy in San Jose and is a very cool guy, has delivered a story with many stories within it, a conspiracy tale involving a Biblical secret sought by nefarious, homicidal agencies. Into this is thrown a down-at-heel freelance journo with an unusual past — one that is proven to be even more unusual than he realises thanks to his own family mysteries.
    This isn’t my kind of story at all, and its structure didn’t warm me to it. The pulp stories contained within the text didn’t need to be there (I’m sure others will love these homages), vying with interminable info dumps for causing the greatest urge to skim read, and the supernatural conclusion left me cold. As I said, not my kind of story, but I suspect those with an inclination towards The Da Vinci Code will find plenty here to entertain (and what a shame it is that that book has become the benchmark for this style of story).

    Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner

    Which leaves the most disappointing of the four, Nekropolis. A great idea is so quickly hamstrung by some clunky structure and an appallingly Hollywood ending reminiscent of the ugly denouement forced on Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner. The protagonist is a former cop from Earth who has found himself turned into a zombie in a demon dimension. He has garnered a deep understanding of this bizarre world and its denizens, as well as forging a wide network of contacts of dubious moral worth. It’s a very cool world, filled with neat critters and a bunch of witches and vampires and shapechangers, all competing in a petty pissing contest for status. What wrecked the story for me were the logic potholes: an awful rewind moment regarding a set of lockpicks, a contradictory solution to an ensorcelled door, and a hugely underplayed and slightly farcical showdown with a nemesis. That the author signals that his major characters all survive undermines any suspense, and the aforementioned Blade Runner moment is the salt in the wound. It’s such a pity a little more care couldn’t have been taken, because the premise, and poor Matt the zombie cop, really have legs.