GenreCon for Sydney in November

From the Queensland Writers Centre bulletin, a great event for genre writers:

The Australian Writer’s Marketplace is proud to announce GenreCon!

Rydges Paramatta, November 2-4th 2012

GenreCon is a three-day convention for Australian fans and professionals working within the fields of romance, mystery, science fiction, crime, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and more. One part party, one part celebration, one part professional development: GenreCon is the place to be if you’re an aspiring or established writer with a penchant for the types of fiction that get relegated to their own corner of the bookstore. Featuring international guests Joe Abercrombie (Writer, The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes), Sarah Wendell (co-founder, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and Ginger Clark (Literary Agent, Curtis Brown).

For more information, visit GenreCon.com.au. Early bird rates available to the first 50 registrations.

The event looks to have a strong industry and networking focus, and the ticketing system includes mention of pitching opportunities.

Salvage: words in the seawrack

salvage by jason nahrung

As part of the Wednesday Writers guest post series over at Ebon Shores, I’ve offered some background to the inspiration and development of the novella Salvage that Twelfth Planet Press is publishing this year. The story took four years to appear on the page — that’s about 10,000 words a year — and arrived in response to three years of rather bruising disappointment. Bottom line: keep swimming.

Up a tree, with vampires

kathleen jennings illo of Jason Nahrung up a tree

A belated note to acknowledge that the wonderful Dr Brains have picked my grey matter for ruminations on things writerly and vampiric over at their Lair — if the wonderful Kathleen Jennings illo is anything to judge by, I’ve truly gone out on a limb! (Because the Brains, aka Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett both host — a kind of left and right brain thing, perhaps — I’m linking to them both!)

For those who haven’t seen the blog that this illo riffs off, Goths Up Trees is not only photographically interesting but comes with the kind of endearing snark one would expect — great fun.

Ready, steady, go … some Tuesday Therapy for the new year

The calendar is flipped, the clock is ticking. Welcome to 2012.

Back in the year just gone, Lisa Hannett was canvassing for inspirational sayings of a writerly bent for her Tuesday Therapy. I came up with a mere word, which Lisa has just published at her blog.

Here, gathered sweaty and very non-new yearly limp around the water cooler — not much vim and vigour in the high 30s, I’m afraid, new year or no — the word, perseverance, sparked a discussion about the subtle difference between it and persistence; a degree of resistance to be overcome in one, an inner spring of tenacity in the other. It probably comes down to how you approach your writing challenges. The main point being, that you keep going.

Of course, what I *could* and possibly *should* have sent Lisa was my favourite quote — I don’t know why it didn’t jump immediately to mind, it wasn’t even outrageously hot at the time; and yes, I am also shite at witty rejoinders. So here’s a bonus Tuesday Therapy and a rather timely one for this time of year, all those blank squares on the calendar, scribbled resolutions and what not:


sandman's death


It is Neil Gaiman’s Death and a wonderful saying that I’ve taken to heart, ever since I first saw the motif on a t-shirt. It speaks for itself.

Tick, tock.

More good stuff, inc. Aussie dark fantasy at Apex

Still catching up after some touring — more on that once I’ve sorted through the metric s-load of photos and try to remember where I was for the past month — but it’s worth a peep over at Apex, where Tansy Rayner Roberts surveys a bunch of Aussie writers about their weird stuff. Interesting stuff, about our love-fear relationship with the bush and the sun, and a great quote from Margo Lanagan:

“I’m regularly surprised by how timid and squeamish some readers are”

  • I couldn’t get to the Digital Writers Conference in Brisbane, but Alan Baxter was a panelist and his report makes me jealous! Alan also reports on the launch of Hope, a suicide awareness anthology that has an enviable TOC of spec fic writers — the Paul Haines story in particular pops out and demands attention; get it anywhere you can!
  • Two very informative writer-bloggers have been prolific while I’ve been away and I’m still trying to catch up, but for starters, I loved the suspense and tension post from Terribleminds, and Ian Irvine has given prolific a bad name, actually, not only unveiling his own painful path to publication but getting guests in to share their writerly wisdom e.g. this excellent post from Stephen M Irwin on the first step.
  • It’s Nanowrimo — I’m not indulging, have already done a couple of sprints this year and needing a little chance to catch a breath before the new year. There’s some wisdom from Patrick Duffy for those who are, though.
  • Our fellow World Fantasy colleague Ellen Gregory has provided a glimpse into both the con and San Diego’s Old Town. World Fantasy is a superb conference for writers due to its focus on the business, even if this year’s program was a little less interesting for my interests. A panel on the social impact of true immortality was an eye-opener, however; I hope I can find my notes! Plus there was the ‘for the hell of it’ Aussie party catered by the always generous Garth Nix, Jonathan Strahan and Sean Williams, and the Brits did a great job of raising interest in Brighton 2013, though the Marmite almost cost them the goodwill!
  • Another snippet of nom nom nom: for those unpublished writers with a YA MS hot to trot, check out the Hardie Grant call as posted at Perilous Adventures.

  • I am a judge for the Aurealis Awards. This post is the personal opinion of the writer, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.

    Cornholed by a thematic devil wombat, and other writerly observations

    “If you dance with the Devil Wombat, you get cornholed by the Devil Wombat.”

    This is an example of a theme, as espoused by Chuck Wendig over at his blog: there are 25 superb points about the importance of theme to a story, and some have got me totally cracked up. Laughing and learning at the same time: gold. Plus, what’s not to love about a devil wombat?

    In other news:

  • From theme to suspense: Ian Irvine, whose website I’ve recommended before due to his insightful advice on the publishing industry, has offered a whole bunch of summaries about building suspense in a story. There’s a bit of crossover, but overall, it’s good stuff.
  • The Australian Horror Writers Association, which fell into something of an open grave this year, looks as if it’s scrambling out, announcing a dedicated page for its mag, Midnight Echo (subs for issue 7, theme of ‘taboos’, open Oct 1 — OMG that’s tomorrow, where has the year gone?) and promising rejuvenation in the new year. The mag is having a subscription drive: you can win stuff.
  • Speaking of zombies, Cam Rogers has expressed his love here. And Chuck McKenzie’s Necroscope is still shambling along nicely, nom nom nom.
  • And Michael Pryor is, for those patient souls looking for almost guilt-free procrastination, has listed a vid of ‘how writers write‘.
  • And then there’s this (reported at the Guardian UK — where, non-writerly, you can listen to the whole new Zola Jesus album, Conatus, but having done so, I think it might be a slow burner, a bit like her Stridulum II which has great tracks but kind of wears all at once…): Amazon’s new line of Kindles, including the Touch and the Fire. Resistance to the juggernaut is becoming futile with the plummeting price point, restrained only by geography, it seems.

  • The Waterboys and Fred Vargas: say again?

    A French detective on the trail of a vampire killer. Two Aussie blokes stealing water from a bunch of fascists. The connect, I hasten to add before tries to have me committed or at least reports me to Archery Australia for drawing a particularly long bow, is between the quote marks.

    Yep, dialogue.

    the waterboys by peter docker

    The Waterboys is Peter Docker’s second novel, and it’s a beauty. The Western Australian writer, who also has the acting string on his bow, has delivered a beautiful depiction of an Australia that never was but might’ve been/should’ve been/might yet be/never could be. It deals with a white bloke who’s in tight with the Countrymen: at their core, indigenous Aussies of Western Australia who forged an amazingly enlightened understanding with English colonists. Part alternate history, part science fiction, part fantasy, the rendering of landscape and spirituality is stunning. You can read a full review of Docker’s dystopian/eutopian vision at ASiF.

    One of the elements that really struck me about the book was the dialogue. It’s as sparse as that desert country, but it’s steeped in character and personality. As such, it complements the prose very well indeed. There’s very little information relayed, either, just the bare bones, because the story is not about explanation — it’s about acceptance. What will be, will be, already is, already has been: time is a very different fish to our Western linear or even circular understanding.

    For a novellist to convey so much information about story and character through virtual stillness is a hell of a feat.

    an uncertain place by fred vargas

    Fred Vargas, French crime writer extraordinaire, is at the other end of the scale, to some extent. I read her An Uncertain Place a little while ago because of the presence of vampires in the text — the crime under investigation relates to the generational damage caused by a family feud in the way back when, with an outbreak of ‘vampirism’ and the resulting bloodshed that followed. So, no fangs, but lots of chinwagging.

    Vargas is also a practitioner of sparse, in that the contemporary world is barely sketched. Paris? Pshaw. The inspector’s office? Well, there’s a cat on the photocopier, and it’s a very cool cat; it made me smile to read about it.

    I didn’t much enjoy the book — it is an English translation from the French but I don’t think that was a factor — for a couple of reasons, primarily the personality of the chief detective — kind of beige, really, and there’s a sacre bleu comment for Vargas fans — and way too many coincidences propping up the investigation.

    But two things I did enjoy: one, the way that little pieces of information, in this case mostly historical anecdotes about men eating unlikely things, kept cycling through the text, sometimes with different metaphorical impact. Tasty.

    And secondly, and this is where the bow string twangs even if the arrow goes adrift, the boldness of the dialogue, not just in execution but in display. I had to stop reading at one stage and flip back, because I realised that in the space of some three pages of almost pure dialogue, there were barely any dialogue tags. Admittedly, it was a one-on-one conversation, so keeping up wasn’t that big a task, but still … Obviously, Vargas has nailed her characters in their speech, to be able to pull that off.

    The upshot of the two works, and the reason for sharing, is that it made me think of all the nodding and gesturing and sighing and godawful stage directions I throw around in my manuscripts to try to keep the identity of the speaker clear.

    And then here are these two very different writers, both saying more with less, and saying it with a distinctive voice.

    I hear what they’re saying.


    Art and artifact and market value

    Alan Baxter shows a pretty cool head on the issue of the .99c prince for e-books, and his post also touches on another issue that’s been banging around since a writers’ group discussion a month ago: what’s my price?

    This comment from Alan really hit a nerve with me:

    I love getting contributor’s copies of books I have stories in, because I’m a vain fucker and like to point to the brag shelf and say to people, “Yes, I have work in all those anthologies. And those are my novels. Ahaha.” Shut up, I need validation.

    Validation. Yes indeed. Because I too like my trophy book, however vain that may sound. Because when the doubt sets in, as it frequently does, it’s comforting to look at a shelf of published works and say, well, those editors all thought my work was okay. So, maybe I should turn the TV off and press on with this yarn.

    The thing is, who are those editors? What kind of benchmark are they setting? Is that anthology something I’m proud to have on my CV, or is it just a another centimetre of paper adding weight to the shelf?

    It all comes down to what the writer wants. And how much they value their work.

    I’m inclined to agree with Cat Sparks, who wrote earlier this year in WQ magazine that, for someone who wants to show they’re serious about their writing, one byline in one well-respected title is worth more than 20 in no-name nil-visibility publications.

    Your CV — your bibliography — is an indicator of the kind of writer you are: quirky, top-shelf, developing, esoteric …

    There’s a market for any story, I suspect. There seems to be no shortage of cowboys roaming the internet range, offering to publish your finely crafted yarn in return for ‘exposure’. Not even a contributor’s copy, but they might offer you a discount to buy your own. These outfits strike me as being particularly predatory, using their contributors not only as material but as a primary market as well.

    Of course, there isn’t a lot of money in publishing at the bottom end of the scale. There’s probably an argument at the moment that there’s not a lot of money at any end of the scale, except for those few exceptional sellers who help finance the rest.

    One pay scale that, anecdotally, seems to be increasingly common is the royalty share. It’s nice of the publisher to count you in in the profits, even nicer if that’s in addition to an up-front payment and/or a contributor’s copy, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for the cash to roll in. Take a look at the formula being used to calculate the royalty, the lifespan of the contract, the likely sales of the antho … It is at least a gesture and it does encourage the contributors to help market the antho.

    And then there markets that offer no payment, but contributor copies. I don’t mind this tier at all. It’s honest and it’s contractually clean, and it shows respect for the contributors. It’s your story; of course you want to see what we’ve done with it. Here, show your friends …

    And hey, if you can get someone to actually pay you money for your work, a token payment or otherwise, all the better. That’s a serious benchmark. That’s a sign of commitment and professionalism (you hope).

    Some anthologies just sound so cool, you want to be in them. Some magazines have serious cache. Some themes stretch your boundaries, challenge your abilities. Some are published for good causes. Some have ace editors. All good reasons to submit, regardless of the pay packet.

    It’s fairly common to hear a writer squee, not so much about being in an antho, but about who else is in it. Yeah, there’s a buzz, rubbing shoulders with your role models.

    I suspect, too, that your requirements from a market might be more generous if you’re prolific and able to pepper the groovy anthos at all levels of the food chain.

    If you’re like me, and squeezing out a short story is akin to pulling a length of barbed wire in one ear and out the other, then you probably want to make those sales count.

    Me, I like the pretty, even more than I care about the money, in some ways. Money is good, but money goes away. That book, it lingers. I like a book that looks good, that has an editor who tries to get the best out of my story and a publisher who thinks enough of my work to, at the very least, give me my trophy for effort: my contributor’s copy. In the flesh. On the shelf.

    And then, the art

    You might notice that the word ‘art’ is contained within ‘artifact’. In the case of books, that’s not the spurious segue it might at first appear to be. Part of my love of physical books is the art: the cover, most obviously, but the stock, the font, the layout, the feel, the comfort … It’s the same reason I still by CDs as my first option.

    carrotLee Battersby has been exploring not so much the physical art of the artifact, but the actual art of the story. I liked his take on it, as illustrated by a carrot — yes indeed! — very much, and added my two bobs’ worth at his invitation.

    Up the critique without a paddle

    texas chainsaw massacreTo be critiqued or not to be critiqued: that is the question.

    Or at least, it has been lately: two of my crit group have blogged on the subject. Lamellae offers a five-post selection of pros and cons; Ellen Gregory ponders the ramifications of a recent going-over of the first chapter of a new work in progress.

    It’s a bold move, submitting such raw copy to a crit group. After all, the group is looking for problems, and damn but they will find them! The question is, how relevant are they for a still unformed work? The issue for the writer is, what are they looking for from the critique — world building and character weaknesses, perhaps? Does this feel like the right place to start this story? The worst thing is to allow the feedback to derail the work (unless, of course, it’s really that dire; sometimes, you need someone to tell you to ditch stuff, even stuff you love, because it just doesn’t fit — ah, my darlings, dead on the cutting room floor). All those drops of red blood, I mean ink, coming from the marked-up pages aren’t necessarily a death sentence. But yeah, watch your adverbs as you progress, sort out that character’s motivations, make the magic system a bit more transparent … take those informed opinions on board and you might save yourself a bucket-load of rewriting later.

    A crit group is invaluable, to my mind, as long as it is a group of peers who will, constructively and respectfully, push you to be the best storyteller you can be. It’s easier if that respect extends to the genres in which you work; my experience in workshops with mixed genres has not been as fruitful as those where everyone came in with a base understanding of how the supernatural ‘works’, or at least were open to the concept. In much the same way that I struggled to care about the minutiae of X and Y’s relationship: when does something happen? Mind you, the uninitiated can be great for spotting logic holes and areas that have been glossed over because of an assumption of what the reader will already know the tropes.

    There’s a skill in not only giving critique but receiving it. Thick skin helps. A preparedness to take on board the advice, in hand with an instinct to know what is relevant and what isn’t. Different critiquers have different strengths: some are great at logic and story, others at character and motivation, others again at grammar. A group with a mix of strengths is very handy for getting that story as tight as it can be.

    The simple fact is, that the author is, more often than not, a terrible editor of their own work. They know the story, but not necessarily the one that’s on the page. They have blind spots, to both story and to prose. There are two tricks for better self-editing: one is to read the work aloud, the other is to print it out in different fonts for each edit. Both help to highlight poor construction and break down the haze of familiarity. I always edit on paper, once I’m at that stage.

    And I rely on my crit group to save me from myself. And hope that, in return, I can also offer some useful advice. Politely, constructively and respectfully.