Rolling the bones, and otherly write bites

ad&d dungeon master's guideI’ve had a wee sabbatical, and there has been wordage, but now it’s back to the mines. Mordor, today; I do hope they’ve cleaned up the blood from the latest cull. At least we had a D&D session on Saturday: not too much bleeding for our side. There’s nothing quite like that communal escape into the fantastic, that combined storytelling, all tempered by a far more personable overlord and some random dice havoc.

Here’s a few of the more interesting articles to cross the desk lately, starting off with a nostalgiac reprint of Gary Gygax’s inspirational classic fantasy titles for role-players (ah, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser!), and an updated appendix to that appendix. You might notice Joe Abercrombie’s name on that latter list — he’s a guest at GenreCon in Sydney in November. Here’s a program teaser. It looks tasty. So, hands up who loved the Thieves World books? Who bumped dice with Jubal? Ah, good times …

Rolling on, and Angela Slatter offers advice for meeting agents — ‘hide the crazy’ — and suggests a key element is to have a good story. You don’t hear much about the value of a good story these days; it’s mostly about how to network and SEO your way to digital sales. Good art and good sales aren’t mutually exclusive, are they? So yay to Writer Unboxed, who reckons one of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is not understanding story. Ah, the learning, it just doesn’t end …

Which leads to Justine Larbalestier, who’s been blogging like a chipmunk on a wheel this month and making far more sense. Well worth stepping off your own wheel and checking out her posts, such as this one about the need for characters to keep learning and this one about them needing to have a life already!

I also enjoyed this introduction (typos and all) at Kirkus to the history of the vampire novel — close to my heart, given Salvage owes a debt to Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

  • midnight and moonshine by angela slatter and lisa hannettLooking forward to: seeing this book in print! Even if I wasn’t helping to launch it, I’d’ve been tempted to drive to Adelaide for Launch II. Lisa and Angela have provided two, well, three actually, of the most enjoyable collections of recent years: this combined effort may just be exponentially awesome.

  • Words of writerly wisdom

    Recent common sense from writers wot know:

    Two-million-word writer Kim Wilkins:

    Write the fucking fiction! Don’t write blogs and marketing plans and twitter yourself in front of everyone in hopes of building a platform. Write the fucking fiction FIRST. The rest is just white noise until you have a good finished product. And it must be good.

    Read the rest here. It’s fucking gold. You can have a ‘cosy chat’ with Kim at the Brisbane Writers Festival on 9 September.

    Justine Larbalestier, whose blog is informative and entertaining, on YA writers doing it for the money:

    If someone really decided to become a YA novelist solely to make big money then they’re an idiot with incredibly poor research skills. Choosing to write novels—in any genre—as a path to riches is about as smart as buying lottery tickets to achieve the same.

    And to complete the trifecta, Joe Abercrombie offers an overview of planning, something I’m going through at the moment with a similar process to this:

    I’ll know the setting and the rough plot for each part, some idea of what each point of view character needs to do, but usually I only plan the first part in any close detail, working out exactly what each chapter is going to contain.

    Abercrombie and Wilkins are guests at GenreCon in Sydney in November, which should be a hoot.

    Taking time

    The RSS feed has delivered two interesting, and timely, posts from fellow scribes. The first, from Kim Wilkins, talks about the negative effect on productivity of the marvellous interwebs — the distraction of being too busy being a writer to actually write; while the second, from Margo Lanagan guesting at Justine Larbalestier’s web home, concerns the necessity of being fallow for a bit, of stepping back, of letting the mind get over itself. And she asks an interesting question: if you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

    Think of all the time you spend writing — not just at the keyboard, but in headspace plotting and dreaming, in reading and watching stuff you think will help, in the PR and communication Kim talks about. Wow. Now, what would you do with that time that would give you the same reward? Another artistic endeavour? Sport? Charity work?

    A writer probably can’t not write, but I guess the crux is, what they want to do with that writing. And can those expectations realistically be met.

    Awards and more book covers

    Ticonderoga has released the book cover of its limited edition reprint of The Infernal by Kim Wilkins, her first novel and still one of my favourites.

    Ticon has also recently made available two anthologies: Scary Kisses, involving paranormal romance, and Belong, speculative tales with a migration hook.

    And in awards news, Jonathan Strahan, Justine Larbalestier (Liar) and Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan) are Aussies all in the running for Locus Awards. This follows the excellent news that Margo Lanagan is up for a Shirley Jackson award for her novella Sea-Hearts, published in X6.

    Here’s a cool trailer for Scott’s Leviathan, a very fun take on the outbreak of World War I:

    And one for Liar, a compelling if infuriating read!

    And not to be overlooked is this new offering from Rowena Cory Daniells, a fancy trailer for her new (and much awaited) trilogy. Rowena has been a stalwart of the spec fic community in Queensland for many a year, helping to found both the Vision writing group (going strong) and the EnVision writers workshop (now defunct, but in a way living on in the Queensland Writers Centre’s year of the novel program): two things that have been of massive benefit to me as a budding author.

    KRKhd from Daryl Lindquist on Vimeo.

    Liar by Justine Larbalestier, and the unreliable narrator

    Australian cover of Liar by Justine Larbalestier

    The Australian cover of Liar

    I finished Liar, a tasty tale from the rather accomplished pen of Justine Larbalestier, last night, and it’s got me thinking, even the morning after and before I’ve finished my first coffee.

    The story is excellent. The prose is delightful, told in first person from the point of view of Micah, a teenager in New York City. Her dad is black and her mother white French. She’s a loner at school who takes delight in running through the streets and especially Central Park; she’s very good at running, she tells us. But her real skill is lying. And there’s the rub.

    Larbalestier has taken the notion of the unreliable narrator and stuck it right out there, in big red letters in the case of the Australian cover (the covers in the US caused quite a stir due to the foolish attempt of the publisher to feature a white face on the cover when the narrator is black – a lie too far: read about the covers at Justine’s blog) (side note: how many writers get 167 comments on a blog post? wicked!).

    The book is broken into three parts, each one promising to tell even more of the truth, and each one correcting statements that have gone before. The event that triggers the story is the death of one of the students at the school. It is the fulcrum: the slices of narrative are told as before or after this key event, with a few background notes thrown in (in exactly the right place). The fact that the boy is dead appears true. The rest is pretty much up for grabs: Micah’s relationship with him, her relationship with her family and their background, an illness that defines how her family treats her and, in part, why Micah is the way she (maybe) is. It’s all seen through the lens of a practised liar.

    Even though I knew I was being lied to, but not knowing when or in which way, the prose — the voice — sucked me in and I found the book compelling. Little truths used to enhance big lies, revised, revisited, compounded, revealed. At story’s end, I really don’t know what to believe. In fact, Micah challenges me in those last pages; even if I had worked out what I reckoned the truth was, or even what I wanted to believe it was, she’s poking her tongue at me, saying, You sure about that?

    No, I’m not sure about it. And that’s what’s bugging me. I want to be able to call up some newspaper files and see what the recorded truth is. I want to know what the truth of Micah’s situation is, there at the end: I’m happy to not be sure about the actuality of the journey, but I’d like to be sure about the destination. Would a second, more attentive reading, result in more surety, or would it just compound the frustration?

    Liar is a gorgeous teenage mystery. That much is true.

    How to write a novel (the Justine method)

    In her acceptance speech at the World Fantasy Awards ceremony this year, Margo Lanagan paid tribute to a blog post by fellow Aussie writer Justine Larbalestier about how to write a novel. Given I’m meant to be doing just that at the moment (writing a novel, that is), I looked up that post, and found it helpful indeed. Here it is. I’ve used the spreadsheet tracking method and it’s uncomfortably illuminating!

    I also thought her expurgated version held quite a lot of truth.

    Enjoy, and then get to it…