Aug 28, 2014

Book Review – On a moon spiced night by Jude Aquilina

on-a-moon-spiced-night

In a short space of time I have come to really enjoy Jude Aquilina’s work.  On a moon spiced night, released in 2004 by Wakefield Press, is however, the first collection solely made up of her work that I have read.

On a moon spiced night fits neatly into the kind of contemporary poetry that I have, through the course of the last couple of years, come to discover I like.  It’s accessible, it riffs of nostalgia, it hooks me in and elicits an emotional response.  That’s not to say that it’s simple nor that I don’t appreciate works that require some poetry reading experience to fully appreciate.

That Aquilina is a South Australian poet writing at times about South Australia, obviously adds a little extra.  I know the places that she is describing and evoking.

It’s a diverse collection structured in four separate categories: Habitat, Love’s Dream, Seeds and Creature Acts

The poems in Habitat seem to centre around experiences of growing up in Adelaide or observations of the city and suburbs.  There’s some subtle experimentation with concrete poetry and some clever choices in format and presentation and I find myself noting some of the choices she has made for my own learning.  The poems Street Fabric and Pointillism best display what I am talking about but are hard to present here in the appropriate format.

Grace versus The Highway is my favourite poem in this section, outlining the struggle of a South Road (presumably) resident who has survived a husband’s death and sons moved to foreign cities, only to have her home bulldozed so the government can widen the highway.

A hanging garden chokes verandah posts;

violets and agapanthus bury the pathways.

Entwined in her nest, Grace is safe for now

until the rats in suits and ties arrive

bearing smiles and papers to sign.

Her shrine will be desecrated by July.

 

Love’s Dream collects Aquilina’s love poetry, whether this be yearning, remembrance, celebration or vengeance.  We have the racy The Lonesome Cowgirl Blues with such suggestive lines as:

 

…I wanna feel like Dolly P  when I hold

your hard mike between my parted pouted lips.

 

and the chilling calculation of a murderer in  Diary of a Poisoner. 

Overall I found a playfulness in this section, an invitation to enjoy love and life, passion and yearning. 

Seeds, which featured a collection of poems about Fruit and Vegetables didn’t grab me as much as the other sections in the book, except for perhaps Outside the Market, 7 am. which illustrates the callousness and indifference that we can have to the destitute when presented with it on a regular basis.  The opening lines resonated, because this sort of indifference was part of my youthful experience:

 

Don't worry luv

their ears go blue

when they’re dead,

the market man says.

 

Creature Acts as you might expect contains observations of and questions asked of our pets, wildlife or ourselves.  King Gussie reveals me as a lover of cats and by extension of cat poems, his antics remind me so much of my own that I had no chance with this poem. 

But lest you think its all fluffy and cute Aquilina gives us some of her emotional heavy hitters here, particularly with The Horologist, about a father who was a fan of clocks, whose interaction with them is a daily ritual. Its a skilfully evoked and executed snapshot of a mans life and its ending.

For decades, he sat at a felt covered bench

poring over tins of sorted springs,

cogs like serrated coins, one eye shut

the other adhered to a magnified lens.

Then suddenly his heart beat stopped

and one by one the clocks followed.

 

Selling poetry whether it be the actual selling of poems or the concept of the art appears to be a difficult act these days outside of the community of poets.  I have some inklings, some gut theories about why this might be.  Folks baulk at paying the same amount  (or more) for a collection than they do a novel.  So I hope that my discussion here has awakened interest, particularly in those who normally pass over poetry.

I think On a moon spiced night has wide appeal and if the thought of taking a chance on poetry (which admittedly can offer diverse and strange fruit) makes you hesitate, try and find a copy at the library. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


awwbadge_2014

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women..

 

 

 

 


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Aug 22, 2014

Book Review - The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller

the-falcon-throne (1)

What I really enjoy in a good book is total immersion; the kind that makes you forget your concerns, that actually leaves you feeling relaxed. Karen Miller’s The Falcon Throne did this while flaying me emotionally.  I dear reader, may even have required tissues at some point.  I enjoy being emotionally manipulated when it’s done well and I felt that Miller was masterful in getting me to love and hate the various characters, to break me by breaking my favourites.

Comparisons will be made to GRR Martin and the back cover blurb on my ARC mentions Abercrombie and Canavan.  

It’s not as drawn out as A Song of Ice and Fire, and while the cast of characters will probably scare readers of mainstream fiction (it includes a Dramatis Personae), the scope felt a little smaller than what you’d expect from “he who kills all his characters”.  Where real similarities can be drawn between Miller and Martin though, is in the ruthlessness they treat the characters you come to love. 

The comparison to Trudi Canavan is apt as well, structurally I found it exceedingly sharp, well paced and when I put it down I was hankering to get back to it. It’s not quite thriller paced, but I certainly felt like the story moved. 

The Falcon Throne is its own book though.  For your 600+ pages you get 4 tightly woven plots that deliver a wealth of conflict and one larger story arc that hints at what the rest of the series will be about.

Roric, a bastard reluctantly slays his tyrannical cousin, helped by disgruntled Lords who have had enough of living in fear. A widowed duchess struggles to hold onto power in a man’s world. Power will corrupt brotherly love and set the wheels of war turning and always, there is the presence of a power moving in the shadows that plays these personalities like pawns.

If you are looking for high fantasy, you won’t find it here.  There’s greed, ambition and trusting fools.  There’s war, pestilence and sorcery.  If you are squeamish when it comes to the suffering of children, or with sexual violence used against either gender you might want to pause – these are not overwhelming elements but The Falcon Throne isn’t a Disney fairytale.  I’d rate it as one of my best reads of the year and would expect Miller to join Rowena Cory Daniells as one of our best women writers of Grimdark.

Enter this tale at your own risk, Miller will slip the dagger under your guard and twist.  You will feel pain.

This review was based on an advanced reading copy.


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.awwbadge_2014

 

 

 

 


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Aug 16, 2014

Book Review – The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford

dutiesPoetry featuring cats is not unheard of, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is one famous example, though I am not sure how many folks realise this collection of light hearted rhyme formed the basis for the musical Cats.  Then of course the internet is powered by pictures of cute kittens.  So on the face of it, a collection of cat poems is probably a very good idea.

The Duties of a Cat is described by publishers, Pitt Street Poetry as a pamphlet, a collection of 12 poems.  It’s similar in size to some poetry chapbooks I have purchased previously.  But whereas most chapbooks are small collections produced cheaply to give the reader the words in the cheapest fashion, Pitt Street have managed somehow to produce a compact, high spec collection, illustrated by Michael Robson, and saddle stitched with a heavy card cover for just $10.

For lovers of cats and poetry the collection is a no brainer as a gift.  But for those strange folk that don’t happen to like our feline masters companions I shall expand a little. 

Blackford can be hard to pigeonhole as a writer, she’s more than dabbled in a number of genres and forms (see her Snapshot Interview) and this facility is evident in the variety she presents in this short collection. The reader is treated to beautifully articulated observational poetry as in Soft Silk Sack and Learning how to be a Cat, to humour that will have even dog lovers generating a grin with The Duties of a Cat, to the dark in Something in the Corner which displays Blackford’s penchant for the weird and to the science fictional in Their Quantum Toy.

I tend to struggle with overwrought diction and experimental syntax and thankfully Blackford is one of those poets who tends to be be more direct.  We get clearly evoked or described images and subtle rhythm. See the excerpt from Dream Hunt below:

 

The white Cat sleeping by the window growls.

I glance across. One pale curved paw, pressed hard

across his eyes, keeps out the daylight world.

His other paws are trembling, desperate to run.

 

While I am admittedly a cat lover and probably outrageously biased, I did enjoy the craft Blackford displayed and the words as much as their subject were a pleasure to read.  On this work and other poetry of Blackford’s I have read, I hope we will see a larger collection in the not too distant future.


awwbadge_2014This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 

 

 


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Aug 12, 2014

eBook Review – The Godless by Ben Peek

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It’s a big step moving from writing condensed, powerful and original short fiction to a multiple book, epic fantasy.  As different as say running a 5km run and a marathon.  In each case you use the same skill but the end objective, your tactics, how you cross the finish line or complete the work is different, enough to challenge the best runners or writers when they are used to one kind of event, one format.

So how did Peek fare?  He’s a very good short story writer (see Dead Americans) and The Godless is an epic in every sense of the word.

Granted a trilogy is not an uncommon sight on fantasy shelves but I get the sense that in some at least there’s a fairly straightforward structure designed to move the story along, hook in readers who will become loyal – an understanding if you will between commerce, story and entertainment that produces an easily digestible product, where the text is transparent. 

Then there are books like The Godless that I think need the space for the scope and definition of the storytelling.  The Godless is an epic, not just in terms of size but in its selection of characters and its apparent scope. 

The city at the centre of The Godless, Mireea, is built on the back of a dying god and for a significant part of the story I was unsure whether of not this was a metaphor, a creation story, for the gods as described seemed more of that ilk, primeval forces with human characteristics but godly dimensions. 

Then we have the Children of the Gods, humans gifted with longevity and power, humans that become immortals and whose life and power produce curious responses: a godlike ruler of animals, a reclusive enclave of detached natural philosophers, a crazed killer of nations.  Then there are the “cursed”, those unfortunates blessed with elemental fragments of the god’s powers who are either shunned because of the differences or are killed by their inability to control the powers they hold. 

What happens to a world existing in the twilight of the god’s powers when a new god appears, is the big picture The Godless series will attempt to answer.  But threaded through this epic tale are personal stories, personal tragedies that help to ground it.

It’s these personal stories, the characters that they spring from that I found most interesting, especially for the genre of epic fantasy.  We still have our sword and sorcery, our big battles, our scarred veterans and our young characters who we will follow on their journey.  But Peek has I think made some original and diverse choices in building and filling his world.  Our principle protagonist is not white, and not male - Ayae is an orphan, a refugee who up until our introduction to her  has made a successful transition to being the apprentice of a renowned cartographer.

Many authors paying lip service to diversity may have stopped there but Peek provides us with a diverse cast and that diversity is three dimensional - the ruler of Mireea, is a shrewd woman of middle age with the associated changes in body and shape that it brings for many of us.  The leader of “Dark”, a bunch of mercenary saboteurs, is an exiled black nobleman and the invading army of nationalistic Leeran’s, is white.  Men and women appear evenly in positions of power.  Now I am sure that some sections of the science fiction community might rail against such blatantly fair representation.  Me, well I see diversity done skilfully, diversity and originality that enhances story.  When your characters feel like real people more so than archetypes then I think the reader finds it harder to slot them into well worn parts, into literary set pieces that they have long grown used to reading and anticipating. Diversity created interest, which kept my immersed along with Peek’s writing style.

Peek’s writing asserted itself from the outset, I was very conscious of his style being an important part of the storytelling, of creating a sense of place and a mood. Some writing fades into the background, let’s the story do the heavy lifting.  What I found in The Godless was a very good mix of fresh story and styled prose.

Slowly, Mireea was becoming uniform: a city of shut buildings and empty lanes, the divisions of economy washed away and falling into memory like the sprawl of markets. Each new building shut up was a part of Mireea lost, and soon he would also be gone. If he was not, he ran the risk of being drawn into the units that the Mireean Guard were making from citizens. That he had no desire for.

If you are looking for a page turner I am not sure I would classify The Godless as such, which is a good thing.  I think you need to devote a bit more attention to it.  This is the first of a great epic and I get the same sense of immersion and depth of history that I got when reading A Song of Ice and Fire.  I want to know more about these characters, because they are fully realised and I can’t sate my curiosity by falling back on archetypes

So how did Peek fare?  Very well.  If you want to enjoy what is possible to achieve when you look outside the standard fantasy tropes give The Godless a go.

 

The e-Arc was provided by the publisher.


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Aug 9, 2014

Snapshot 2014 – Dion Hamill

SnaphotLogo2014 The most recent cover work of yours that I have seen is for Jo Anderton's Guardian, which everyone I have spoken to is enamoured of. What are you currently working or if it's embargoed perhaps you could tell us what it was like creating a cover for a series that already had a certain visual style presented in the first two books?

Guardian was an absolute joy  to work on and I’m thrilled with how much love it has received.  Initially when I was asked to create the cover the brief did say it was to keep in theme with the last 2 books and my original compositions were very similar to that.  But as my preliminary sketches evolved after reading the novel extracts I started to explore different looks and compositions.  Fablecroft and Jo were very receptive to the idea and with a few minor tweaks here and there I created the final piece.

I knew it had to be as striking as possible to grab a readers attention but it was the essence of the characters journey that had to be the defining imagery.  Its sort of a montage of an actual moment in the book as well as a metaphor for what the character is going through, her struggle to hold herself together.  The concepts of her very  form decaying against the background of this decrepit mega city  are amplified by this giant burning sun on the horizon.  Visually I wanted that sun to create a focal point that just pops out at the reader and won’t be missed anywhere no matter how small the image is on a web page, or where ever the book may sit on a shelf.  It just draws the viewer in, drawing them closer to explore Guardian.

In between the odd cover assignment, advertising work and commissions,  I’m working on a few of my own paintings and a cavalcade of comic books I’ve written.  At this very moment I’m working on a story called The Dreamer.  The whole story is told visually and there is no dialogue.  I’m exploring this idea where dreams seem so real when you are in them but if you think about it some pretty bizarre things happen that logically just can’t be true. 

 

I am delighted to find that you are responsible for some of my fave small press covers but you have also worked with large publishing houses. What are the similarities and differences in working for these different sized operations?

Whether I’m working on small press or well established I treat every client the same, however the initial process might differ but the ultimate goal is to create a design that’s going to sell the book.  If working on a small press project I’m always thinking this could be the defining book for this publisher,  how am I going to make it stand out from the crowd.  And I think its just natural for all creative types to think that what you’ve made could be that defining piece.

The most obvious differences would be budget.  Small press may only be a few hundred dollars whereas larger companies might pay a thousand or more.  Yet I never let this define the quality of the piece.  I’ll always provide the best quality  I can within what I have to work with.

The amount of input involved.  Larger publishers could have up to 20 people look over your work before its approved and that may not even include the author.  Smaller publisher you may  only be dealing with 2-3 people or it might be even as simple as you’re just conversing with the author.

The defining similarity is the absolute dedication everyone has to the project.  Take Jo’s Guardian as an example, when I received my  copy of the book you can just sense the love that went into that book.  The quality  of the printing is exceptional, it feels great to hold.  The design and layout along with the cover image looks so soft and warm.  It sits on the shelf in my studio like a warm fireplace.

 

Dreamer Wings sm Perseverance and talent has given you an interesting career path, perspective drawing for architectural firms, freelance cover and internal illustrations to name but two stops on the journey. What would you like to do that you haven't had the chance to yet?

I would really like to start publishing more of my own stories.  I’ve had 3 so far and it was a great experience.  But I’m itching to create more, I’ve been hinting at a few pieces on my blog every now and then, things like Arid and The Dreamer which are all stories told predominantly with just pictures and either very little or no dialogue.  That is something I’m very keen to explore along with a few other comics I’m working on, one of which is called I fight the city.

Posters are something else I would like to explore.  Many years ago I worked on a few band posters and CD covers.  They were great fun and its an industry I would like to get back into again especially now Australian music has some great bands creating some really interesting work.

 

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Currently I’m reading Jo Anderton’s Guardian and it is awesome.  And I really liked the Guy Pearce film, The Rover.

 

Dreamer - Adrift cover sm Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be producing in five years from now?

Digital publishing has definitely changed the way I work.  I can create a lot of my  own content for the web and market that to specific audiences around the world.

And because books are no longer constrained to just printed matter often publishers now ask for internal illustrations for a novel which does increase the amount of work available.  It is a real win-win situation for the reader and the creators.

The downside is a lot of printing firms are finding it hard to stay afloat due to the lower levels of printed material. But ultimately when you create a book the goal is to have a physical copy of that book that you can sit and immerse yourself with.  The initial rules of publishing may have changed but the final product will always be there whether its in hard copy  digital, audio, or whatever else may come along.

 


Dion lives in New South Wales, Australia and has been providing commercial artwork for publishing, advertising and marketing agencies nationally and worldwide.

While studying Advertising, Design and Marketing at Curtin University he found an interest in painting with acrylic. After university Dion studied Fine Art and Graphic Design at the Metropolitan College of TAFE in Western Australia to hone his painting ability. It was in his final year of study that he began working for local building firms as an Architectural

Perspective Artist and refined his technical drawing skills.

In early 2000 Dion began working for publishers as a freelance artist working on various projects for children’s books and magazines.

To date Dion has provided work for some of the worlds top publishers such as, McGraw Hill, Macmillan, Little Hare Books and Blake publishing.

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


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Aug 8, 2014

Snapshot 2014 - Andrew J McKiernan

SnaphotLogo2014You've just launched Last Year, When We Were Young, which is out through Satalyte Publishing.  What does it mean for you to have your best short works available in one collection?


I guess I don't really see it as a collection of my best short work; it's all of it. We didn't do any picking or choosing, just threw it all in and tried to bring some sense of balance through the story order. Apart from two, much older, unpublished stories that will probably never see the light of day, that's it. All the fiction I've ever written and published, jammed between two covers. So, I see it as a huge milestone, but also as a kind of line between what I've done and what I hope to do as a writer over the next couple of years.

 

You have been reasonably prolific in the Australian scene in both fiction writing and art. Is there a particular sale/experience that you hold dear?

Most recently, that would have to be Kaaron Warren travelling to Sydney to help me launch my collection. It was wonderfully generous of her, and quite humbling for me because I admire her writing so much. That she'd take the time to do that for me, and say such nice things to a group of people, is something I'll always hold dear.

 

A collection is somewhat of a Milestone and though its only just been released what are you setting your sights on next?

Next, I'm knuckling down to finish my novel 'A Quiet Place'. It's an Australian crime novel set in Sydney and rural New South Wales. Sort of 'No Country for Old Men' crashes headlong with 'Wake in Fright'. It's something I started working on towards the end of last year. I was posting a few paragraphs on Facebook as I wrote them, and after a couple of weeks I got a message from Stephen Ormsby at Satalyte. He wanted to know if he could see what I'd written for the novel, which was only about 5,000 words at that stage. He also asked to see anything else I had. So, I sent him the first 5,000 words and all my published short stories. A couple of days later he came back and made me an offer for both the novel and a short story collection. Means the pressure is on me now to finish what I started and make sure it's good. I'm very happy with what I've written so far though.

 

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I've really enjoyed the first two books in Mark Barnes' "Echoes of Empire" fantasy trilogy from 47North, and looking forward to the conclusion. Rjurik Davidson's "Unwrapped Sky" was great too. I'm also keen on giving Ben Peek's "The Godless" a read. I went off reading most fantasy for a while, but it was great to be lulled back by Australian authors with some really original ideas.

 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

They've certainly influenced the way I read. Just over a year ago I discovered I needed reading glasses, but I often forget them or leave them somewhere where I'm not. That's made me somewhat of an ebook convert. I've had an Android tablet for a couple of years now, but don't play games on it or use it for much. It sat there gathering dust until I installed some ebooks, and now that's pretty much all it's used for night-and-day. It has also changed *what* I read - I've gone back to a lot of older books that are hard to find print copies of. I ploughed my way through the entire series of Richard Stark's Parker novels in just over a month. I'm reading a lot more classics, a lot more crime, a lot more 'literary' and mainstream works. At the moment I'm reading a lot of post-war post-apocalyptic fiction; The Earth Abides, The Death of Grass, On the Beach, that sort of thing. Before that it was crime noir, and that was just after my devour-everything-Southern-Gothic phase, and the leave-no-western-unread period. All these things influence the kinds of stories I want to write, so I've no idea where that will take me five years from now. I don't see any publishing industry doom ahead of us though, and I'll just keep putting words together, confident that there'll always be enough readers out there to read them.


ajmckiernan_photo_small
Andrew J McKiernan is an author and illustrator from Narara, on the Central Coast of New South Wales. First published in 2007, his stories have since been short-listed for multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows awards and reprinted in a number of Year's Best anthologies. He was Art Director for Aurealis magazine for 8 years and his illustrations have graced the covers and internals of a number of books and magazines. His first collection of short stories, "Last Year, When We Were Young", was recently released in print and ebook formats by Satalyte Publishing. http://www.andrewmckiernan.com

 

 

 

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


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Snapshot 2014 – Annabel Smith

SnaphotLogo2014 You first came to my attention with the very well received Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, which came out in 2012. I have heard a rumour however of a Steampunk inspired novel lurking in the wings. What can you tell us about that?

My current work-in-progress, Monkey See, is the first book in a trilogy about a trio of unlikely heroes who must unite to overthrow a sadistic cult and save their city before a tsunami strikes. It was indeed Steampunk-inspired - the idea for it came to me after reading Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World - but Monkey See is not a Steampunk novel. Gilman’s novel influenced the voice of my novel, rather than the genre. Monkey See is set in a post-technological far-future version of Chile. If I have to put a label on it I’d describe it as an epic quest with a speculative fiction twist.

 

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, was as I said very well received but you gained a bit of press when you blogged about how little return you saw despite reasonable sales and working hard at your own media campaigning. What's your advice to writers on making a living from writing?

My advice would be not to expect to make a living from writing; very few writers do. Do it for love. Give it everything you’ve got, and treat any money you make from it as a delightful surprise rather than a right. Having said that, it helps to be practical: explore other ways to earn money from ‘being a writer’ outside of royalties, for example, public speaking, running workshops etc

 

I’m interested in multi-media storytelling and your blog features a teaser about a project called The Ark. Its tag line reads “Super Sad True Love Story meets Oryx and Crake”. What can you tell us about its inception and what you hope the end result will look like?

The Ark is a digital interactive novel and app in which a group of scientists and their families retreat into a bunker inside Mount Kosciusko during a post-peak oil crisis, alongside a seed bank which holds the key to the future of life on earth. The app invites readers to dive deeper into the world of the novel, and to continue to develop that world by sharing their own content inspired by the novel. Readers can tour the bunker, eavesdrop on characters’ conversations, and upload their own articles, audio recordings and videos to add to the narrative. I developed it with the assistance of a Creative Australia Fellowship from the Australia Council, and it will be published on September 19th. I am super-excited to share it with the world.

 

What Australian works have you loved recently ( speculative fiction or otherwise)?

I absolutely ripped through Max Barry’s Lexicon. I enjoyed the suspense in Honey Brown’s post-apocalyptic novel Red Queen and the world building in Jo Anderton’s Debris. Outside of the spec-fic world, I read Dawn Barker’s Let Her Go in a single sitting - it’s an intelligent take on surrogacy and a great page-turner. My favourite Australian book of the last year has been Yvette Walker’s gorgeous literary fiction debut Letters to the End of Love.

 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Before I signed a contract for Whisky Charlie Foxtrot with Fremantle Press (and later Sourcebooks in the USA) I collected rejections for three years and it was soul-destroying. I vowed that I would never wait so long to find a publisher again, and after struggling to find a publisher who felt like the right fit for The Ark, I made the decision to self-publish. Then I took it a step further and decided to create an interactive app to accompany the novel. A few years ago, both of those things would have been unthinkable. Though there are plenty of kinks to be ironed out, I think it’s a really exciting time in the publishing world. There are so many opportunities for writers which didn’t exist a few years ago.

Having said that, while the process of creating an app and self-publishing have been great learning experiences, they’ve also been incredibly stressful and time-consuming and at the end of the day that’s time I’d really rather spend writing. I wanted to try out new forms of publishing, and I’m very glad I have, but ultimately I guess I’m a traditional girl - I like to write the books, hand them over to someone else, and see them in paperback a few months later.

 


Annabel_Smith_Headshot Annabel Smith is the author of The Ark, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe. In 2012 she was selected by the Australia Council as one of five inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in Southerly, Westerly, and on Junkee and Wheeler Dailies. She has been an invited guest, as panellist and chair, at Melbourne Writers Festival and Perth Writers Festival, is a member of the editorial board at Margaret River Press and holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Edith Cowan University.

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


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Aug 7, 2014

Snapshot 2014 – Steve Cameron

SnaphotLogo2014 You are a teacher of English and Literature, which usually precludes reading/discussing speculative fiction, though not always. What does speculative fiction as a genre give you as a writer that realist fiction doesn't?

Perhaps I’ve just been fortunate, but I’ve always worked in English faculties that have supported and actively encouraged speculative fiction as texts. During the past ten years I’ve taught a lot of speculative texts, such as The Hunger Games, Coraline, World Shaker, Never Let Me Go, and World’s Next Door among others. I’ve also taught visual media including The Truman Show (which is an unacknowledged adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel), The Woman in Black, Gattaca, Futurama, and City of Ember. Both my schools have also taught writing units in science fiction and horror. I’ve found that most English teachers are quite open to speculative fiction. It’s only in the senior years, where text selection is made by external governing bodies, that classics and novels of contemporary issues tend to dominate.

Speculative fiction is the greatest ‘what if’? I’ve experienced one UFO sighting, and at least five ghostly encounters I cannot explain. I love the unknown. I love the idea there might still be mystery in this world. I get enough realism in my day to day life. I spent six years living in Japan, and I was fascinated by what I experienced, how other humans could have completely different cultures, different behaviours, different beliefs and different thought processes. The natural metaphor, the extreme extension of that ‘different culture’, is an alien culture. I love exploring how there are more similarities than differences between us, and those differences are often trivial and superficial.

I’ve always been fascinated by space. I’m an amateur astronomer. I’ve read widely on the NASA missions. I only have a few memories of my early years at school, but the most vivid of these is sitting in a large room with several other classes as I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. I loved it, and it fired my imagination.

We write what we know and what we love, and I know and love speculative fiction. Genre fiction is an escape. It carries a distance that permits us to safely explore our own world by mapping it onto an imagined world, whether that’s an alternate reality, a dark reflection of our own lives, or an alien planet. We can write about our desires, our fears, our questions, our unknowns through the filter of speculation.

I’ve recently re-read some of my stories and I can see patterns in their themes, things about which I’ve spent time wondering. I can find internal dialogues spilled on the page that perhaps only those who know me well would recognise as exploration of my own questions.

I haven’t intentionally chosen not to write realism, but there have been times I’ve started writing without knowing where I’m heading and it hasn’t been too long before something speculative creeps in.

 

You have had the good fortune and the talent to work with and be published alongside, a number of our best writers. Is there a story, a collection or moment that you look back on with fondness or pride or a turning point where you decided - yes this writing gig is for me?

I certainly feel honoured to have been published alongside some great writers. And I understand what you mean by ‘good fortune’, but I want to be clear that I don’t think luck has anything to do with it. I’ve worked hard on every story I’ve sold. I’ve had to actively target markets. I’ve had to write, rewrite and submit my stories. Ironically, I feel unlucky with some of the markets from which I’ve been rejected. But rejection is part of being a writer and we just have to accept it. I rant privately for about five minutes, re-submit the story to another market as soon as possible, and forget it.

Like many writers I can be insecure regarding my work. There are lean times where I receive rejection after rejection and I find myself questioning whether I can write. And then I make another sale and it sweeps all those self-doubts away. As a result, I have had a series of moments when I feel like this writing gig is truly for me, and a number of times I remember with fondness and pride. The first one was just after I’d written my first two stories. I wrote them a few days apart and didn’t really know what to do with them. I signed up for a weekend workshop with Sean Williams (I’d never even heard of him previously. For some reason I presumed he was American.), and returned home thrilled that Sean and Stuart Mayne (then editor of Aurealis) had been very encouraging about my story. Then there was my first sale, Ghost of the Heart, which Steve Clark at Tasmaniac published in Festive Fear 2. I was literally dancing around the house, calling my wife at work and texting friends. Later I had a mentorship with the incredible Paul Haines, and I will always cherish our e-mail exchange in which he said wonderful things about my writing. There are more: my first award nomination, my sale to Keith Stevenson’s fantastic anthology, Anywhere But Earth, my sale to Eric Guignard’s After Death (which went on to win the Bram Stoker award), and my first pro-level sale to Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, which resulted in my name sitting on a table of contents between C.J. Cherryh and Robert Sheckley. There are more, but those are the highlights.

Just this morning I was listening to Galactic Suburbia where Tansy Rayner Roberts commented that every time she reached a goal in her writing, she realised she had simply arrived at the beginning of something new. She’s right. Writing is like climbing a mountain. Every goal I reach is the crest of a small rise. Once there I find a new rise ahead ,and realise there’s much further to go. Tansy also commented that the reward for success in writing is more work. That’s so true.

I now accept that I can do this writing thing. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do. It’s too late for me. I’m addicted to writing and being published.

 

You have been very consistent in your publication and you will be featured in Coeur de Lion's D6 publication in October. What market would you like to crack that you haven't?

It’s great to sell to Keith Stevenson again. Dimension6 is an exciting new venture, and the first two issues were fantastic. I feel honoured to be one of only nine names he’s chosen to publish this year, and I’m very well aware that I’m the least known of those nine authors. Even though I’ve been published alongside six of the other writers previously, I still can’t believe I’m among authors whose books I have on my shelves, authors I’d read but never thought I’d ever meet. I feel privileged to now consider some of these writers as friends.

I have a long list of markets I want to crack, but there are a few I’d see as personal victories at this stage of my writing career. Obviously I’d love to sell to the so-called ‘big three’: Asimov’s, Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’ve been close a couple of times, receiving personal rejections, but no sales so far. I’ll get there soon, I hope. In Australia, I’d love to sell to Twelfth Planet and Ticonderoga Publications. And, of course, I’d love to sell more to Coeur de Lion, FableCroft, and Andromeda Spaceways.

 

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The standouts for me have been Trucksong by Andrew Macrae, Bread & Circuses by Felicity Dowker, Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer, and The Bride Price by Cat Sparks. Having said that, I’m way behind on my reading. I have a huge TBR stack which I’m steadily working through, but I feel a little guilty at how much local work I have yet to catch up on. About two years ago I was right up to date with all my Australian reading, but there has been so much great work released in the meantime. There are a few books I’ve pushed up the stack, and I look forward to shortly reading N.A. Sulway’s Rupetta, Rob Hood’s Fragments of a Broken Land, Jo Anderton’s The Bone Chime Song, Kirstyn McDermott’s Perfections, Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky, Janeen Webb’s Death at the Blue Elephant, and the most recent releases of the Twelve Planets series.

I’d pretty much recommend anything from Coeur de Lion, Twelfth Planet, FableCroft and Ticonderoga. I can’t think of any of their releases that have disappointed me, and I believe Australian small press is leading the way in regards to diversity and quality.

 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I don’t think the changes have influenced the way I’ve worked too much. I’m old fashioned in regards to reading. I much prefer a paper book to e-books, although I’ve reluctantly started reading e-magazines on Kindle. I can tolerate it, and it’s certainly convenient when traveling, but if I can have the paperback I’m much happier.

I probably still harbour some prejudices towards purchasing ebooks, especially self-published ones. I’m not against self-publishing. It certainly has its place, but I’m seeing far too many people self e-publish their stories that in previous years would have been trunked. There’s still far too much whitenoise out there. The number of e-publishers has rapidly increased, because so many people think they can do it. It’s reasonably easy to set up a webpage and solicit stories. I like the validation that comes with a respected brand name. I’ll happily buy the e-book version of a release from a publisher I know, whether they are major or small press, but social media is full of people touting e-books by writers and publishers I’ve never heard of. My suspicions are many of these are little more than vanity publishing.

Dimension6 altered my perspective somewhat. I know Keith, he has a solid reputation and I’d worked with him before. I’d sold So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper to Keith’s Anywhere But Earth (a vastly under-rated and sadly under-read anthology) so I knew whatever Keith was doing would be fantastic. For me personally, he brought a level of credibility to e-publishing, that validation I required. Even as late as November last year I told someone I had no interest in submitting work to electronic only publishers. When Keith Stevenson announced Dimension6 I changed my mind. I’m now much more open to investigating other e-markets. I must say I still love the idea of having a physical copy of my work.

I think the way I write has mostly developed due to my efforts to learn, to be educated. I pay attention to whatever feedback I get from editors and slushreaders, whether I agree with what they’ve said or not. I’ve taken courses with Dean Wesley Smith, Tracey Hickman, Jack Dann, Sean Williams and Kate Forsyth. I had a mentorship with Paul Haines. And mostly I’ve read lots of short fiction and spent time deconstructing them.

I have my dreams for the future. I also have very specific goals I’d like to achieve. Currently I’m an associate member of the SFWA, but I’d like to become a full member in the next year. Obviously, I’d like to be in a position where my acceptances outnumber my rejections. I feel as though I’m about ready to start working on a novel, so I’d like to see that written and published. I’ve recently had a number of people push me to self-publish, but I don’t want to self-publish and I’m not ready for my own collection. You only get one chance to make a great first impression, so I’d like to be a better writer first and to have a larger body of work from which to select.

I don’t think I’m particularly good at networking and self-promoting, and that’s probably an area in which I need to improve. Ultimately, though, I believe it’s the work that has to stand on its own. Being connected isn’t enough, and I’d like to think the bibliography I’m building speaks for itself. Perhaps in the next few years a publisher will approach me and love my work to the extent they want to publish my collected works.

As for who or what I’ll be reading, who knows? I know I’ll always read diversely. I read non-fiction and fiction, different genres, long, short. Whenever I travel I buy collections and anthologies by local authors, so I read across many cultures and nationalities.

I’m always thrilled to see fellow writers achieve success. Perhaps in five years’ time some of my friends will be the writers I’ll be reading regularly, and I’ll be able to tell people ‘I knew them when…’

 


2013-12-30 14.54.55 Steve Cameron is a Scottish/Australian writer. Publications include Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, After Death, Anywhere but Earth and Galaxy's Edge. Steve is a member of the HWA, the SFWA, and SuperNOVA writers' group. He has been shortlisted for the Ditmar and Chronos awards five times. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevecameron.com.au

 

 

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.

Aug 6, 2014

Snapshot 2014 – Jenny Blackford

SnaphotLogo2014 You write historical fiction, speculative and realist poetry and short fiction.  You've been published locally and internationally in all of these areas. What currently has your creative focus in its grip?

Right now, it's poetry of all genres that has me in its stern grip. My most recent poem is totally realistic, taken from real life, with nothing supernatural, but the end is so creepy that it's arguably horror.

I've been cursed – or blessed – with versatility. My focus is a bit on the fuzzy side. I might be the only writer who's had sf stories in, for example, local Cosmos and international Penumbra, fantasy stories in HarperCollins’ Dreaming Again and plenty of small press anthologies, such as (soon) Phantazein, mild horror stories in Aussie Bloodstones and US Kaleidotrope, a YA-crossover historical novella, The Priestess and the Slave, commissioned and published by US small press Hadley Rille Books (and praised by feminist historical journal HerStoria), realist poems in Westerly and the School Magazine (both Australian literary journals, for adults and children respectively), spec fic poems in Strange Horizons and Star*Line (both US spec fic journals), and stories for kids in all sorts of genres in the School Magazine and various anthologies such as Random House's 30 Australian Ghost Stories for Children, plus any amount of literary criticism over the years, mostly published in New York Review of Science Fiction – and I was one of the Editorial Collective that published Australian Science Fiction Review Series II.  And now Pitt Street Poetry, who publish high-profile poets such as Mark Tredinnick and Jean Kent, have published a collection of my cat poems, with gorgeous illustrations. So when I'm asked to introduce what I write, I find it hard to explain in a few words!

My awards are all over the place, too. I placed second in the Science Fiction Poetry Association poetry competition last year (with a horror/sf poem), but also in the 2013 Rhonda Jankovic competition for poetry with a social justice theme (and that poem was largely about the 5th Century BC Plague of Athens) announced earlier this year, and the 2013 WB Yeats Poetry Prize for Australia (for a realist poem that just happened to mention hunting mammoths), both announced this year. Most recently, I came first in the Humorous Verse section of this year’s Henry Lawson competition, with an absurd animal poem.

But, yes, it's poetry that I can't help writing these days.

 

I read your Power Men poem at Strange Horizons recently and thought it displayed the power of poetry to slip between rigid genre borders, to play with realism and fantasy, to be metaphorical or fantastical.  What are your thoughts?

Thanks, Sean! Here's a link to the poem, so people can see what we're talking about: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20131216/blackford-p.shtml

That's certainly one of the most wonderful things about spec fic poetry – that it allows us to play with a sense of wonder about the natural, scientific world.

I've always looked at those huge metal structures and though how much they're like giants who were striding across the landscape, then were somehow frozen in place. I sat down to try to express that, and the poem happened. Very little of the process was conscious. They wanted to be trolls, and to be free to dance just one night. I'm lucky that the spec fic world allowed a poem about these fantastic creatures to be published!

 

You've recently released a pamphlet of beautifully illustrated cat poems, The Duties of a Cat, through Pitt Street Poetry. Is poetry your future direction or is it a matter of finding the right form for the right project?

I'm very grateful that Pitt Street Poetry accepted my manuscript, and shaped it into such a beautiful tiny book – and that they commissioned those gorgeous cat pictures, many of them taken from photos of our own cat Felix.

You're probably right that poetry is my new direction. As we get older, if we're lucky, we become ourselves, and I'm apparently turning back into the poet that I was at 15.

But it isn't the only direction. My husband Russell Blackford says that The Priestess and the Slave is historical fiction written by a poet, with unusual density and imagery.

I find that, even with poetry, the genre of anything I start is indeterminate until it's finished. I never (or almost never) set out deliberately to write anything (least of all a poem) in a certain genre. For me, a poem or a story almost starts with a phrase or an image, and where it goes from there is totally unpredictable. Often, I don't know whether something I'm working on is speculative or not until it's finished – sometimes not even them.

Indeed, I find that each thing I write (not just the characters) has a will of its own. Several short stories demanded to become novels, some novels wanted to be poems instead. Right now, everything seems to want to turn into a poem – but a year or so back, I had a bunch of ideas that turned into picture book manuscripts.

By the way, there's a brand new audiobook version of The Priestess and the Slave available right now, and I have a few free promo codes to give away in exchange for HONEST reviews. I might be biased, but I think that Hollie Jackson has done a beautiful job of narrating it. Please email me at jennyblackford [at] bigpond [dot] com if you're interested!

 

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Just a few brilliant works of Aussie creativity, off the top of my head: Mark Tredinnick's Bluewren Cantos; Thoraiya Dyer's Asymmetry; Judy Johnson's Stone Scar Air Water; Jason Nahrung's Blood and Dust; Kirstyn McDermott's Perfections; Janeen Webb's Death at the Blue Elephant; Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter's Midnight and Moonshine.

 

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Poetry has been a cottage industry for a long time. The introduction of nimbler printing technologies has made the printing of poetry faster and cheaper, though sales are seldom stratospheric. It's also worth noting that poetry is a great fit for the internet. Poems work really well on a website – look, for example, at The Pedestal Magazine! (Note that that last link will take you to my poem "Their Cold Eyes Pierced My Skin", which probably isn't recommended for people much younger than 18.) I'm thrilled that this longish poem has been reprinted in the recent Australian anthology of speculative poetry lovingly edited by Tim Jones and P.S. Cottier, The Stars Like Sand – a book well worth seeking out, with a very wide range of styles – and a poem by you too, Sean!

I'm hoping that in five years I'll have a wide range of publications – more poetry, a poetic picture book or three, maybe a fantasy trilogy set in the Bronze Age, maybe a ghost story for 10s to 12s... I have quite a few projects simmering away, and I love all those genres and sub-genres, and more.

And I hope to continue reading widely and deeply all over the spectrum!

 


Wild-eyed cat demonJenny Blackford's poems and stories have appeared in Westerly, Australian Poetry Journal, The Pedestal Magazine and more. Pamela Sargent called her historical novel  set in classical Athens and Delphi, The Priestess and the Slave, "elegant". Her first poetry collection, The Duties of a Cat, was published by Pitt Street Poetry in late 2013. Her website is www.jennyblackford.com, she blogs at http://jennyblackford.livejournal.com, and she tweets as @dutiesofacat.

 

 

 

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.

Snapshot 2014 - Louise Cusack

SnaphotLogo2014Can you tell us a bit about your current work in progress, Silk, particularly how you feel your research trip helped in its writing?

This book has been a few years in the making and flows out of my obsession with Da Vinci and the extraordinary times he lived in. So firstly, the blurb:

The Florentia series is set in a lost world conquered by Renaissance Italians at the time of Da Vinci. It follows the fate of a resourceful young ambassador who must choose between two men she comes to love completely: the brutal generale who can save her world, and the engineer from Earth who can destroy it.

The story opens with our young ambassador betrothed to the generale everyone fears, while an unsuspecting engineer from our world is pulled through a portal into theirs. Florentia is a hotbed of political intrigue that’s been festering for five centuries, and inside that pressure-cooker I’ve created a high-stakes story with dire consequences if any of the three lead characters make a wrong choice. The political machinations were delicious to write, but of course, being a romantic at heart, the love story was an important component for me as well – and I do like a good love triangle!

The setting of Florentia is deliberately elaborate. A couple of years ago I spent a week in Rome and two weeks in Florence researching art and architecture that the wealthy Medici family had commissioned from artists like Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. I met Medici scholars and even stayed in a palazzo owned by the Medici family 500 years before. My goal was to imagine what sort of wonders the invading Medici would have created on Florentia in the 500 years they’d been ruling it, assuming they had the resources of an entire world to drawn on. I’ve got a pretty good imagination, so hopefully I’ve done that justice. To test the water, I entered Silk in a couple of big US writing contests for fantasy stories with romantic elements, and it’s finaled in The Beacon, Show me the Spark, and the Sheila,which is really encouraging. Now I just need to finish editing it and sell it!

 

You wrote the bestselling Shadow through Time series. What was it that attracted you to writing Fantasy in the first place?

Growing up, I was one of those kids who never felt like they belonged, so I was drawn to ‘stranger in a strange land’ stories like The Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Dune, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – novels that explored that idea of seeing a world through fresh eyes. As a teenager, when my girlfriends were reading romance novels, I was devouring the Edgar Rice Burroughs Princess of Mars series (recently made into the Disney movie John Carter). I’ve written ‘light’ romances, but my best work is always going to be dark fantasy. I don’t know why, but creating other worlds comes naturally to me, and I think that’s why I do so well working with computer game companies to help them develop fantasy and sci fi world building.  

 

You run a mentoring business and have mentored and assessed manuscripts for International Best Sellers like Australia's Kylie Scott. Aside from success and remuneration what do you love about the mentoring and assessment process?

Part of my mission statement is to share my passion for storytelling and inspire others to tell their own stories, so mentoring and assessment fit that nicely. Some years I have more time for it than others. From a practical perspective, I completely “get” the psychological side – the self-doubt, the grandiose dreams, the desperate desire to share your characters with other people. I also understand that writing is a business, and now more than ever, you have to have strong writing craft along with a great story if you expect a major publishing house to take you on. I’m good at teaching the craft. I’ve assessed over 200 manuscripts now. And I’m naturally quite a nurturing person, which helps. So I couple that with honesty about what needs to be fixed, and excitement and enthusiasm for what’s already working fabulously. I try to help people see that their dream is practical and do-able. You just need faith and persistence!

 

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Jason Nahrung’s Salvage is a fave. I re-read that recently. Cheryse Durrant’s The Blood She Betrayed was a pretty awesome spec fic debut – a kick-ass heroine arriving on our world from another world – so she’s an author to look out for. Anything by Kylie Scott – really, she’s such a talent. I love her zombie erotica (Flesh, Skin) and her Stage Dive romances are great too: Lick, Play, Lead and soon Deep – again taking everyday characters and thrusting them into extraordinary circumstances (a zombie society, the high-drama world of big International rock bands). I’ve also been working through the Kimberley Freeman and Kate Morton backlists and loving their historical worlds.

 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Twenty years ago all I did was write, and now I need time for social media every day. That’s distracting. And it’s not going away. The huge rise in indie authors means that I’m not competing against twenty other fantasy authors in the bookstore for a sale, I’m competing against thousands (many indie/self-published) in Amazon and the Book Depository. So author platform is no longer something any of us can ignore. And the fact that there isn’t any ‘right’ way to do promotion, means that authors waste a lot of time on social platforms that don’t engage readers.  Of course, the best advice is write a fabulous book, but I’ve seen people do that, and not make sales because their book was lost amid the thousands of new releases every day.

The rise in self publishing has meant that anyone with a word processing program can toss together a ‘novel’, spell check it, whack a cover on it, then in a few quick steps they’re “published” by Amazon or Smashwords which, as you can imagine, upsets some of the established authors who had to work much harder for the status of “published author”. Of course, there are also indie authors who go to a lot of trouble with editing, professional covers etc, and hybrid authors who have traditionally published books and also indie books. The upshot is that there are a lot of authors out there now. Recently a multi-published International best-selling author told me that she felt like she’d wasted her adult life striving for something that’s worthless now, and several established authors have retired because the effort of meeting big publishing house standards isn’t worth the return any more – the market is flooded with “authors” so the specialness of that job is gone. As a mentor of both new and established authors I get to see both sides: the fabulous reality that everyone who has the dream to be a published author can now achieve that, and the disappointment of those who had to work harder to achieve that status. I have no answers, really, and all the writing organizations I belong to have been grappling with their definition of “published author” for the last few years. So from an author’s perspective, the ground has really shifted in the last three years. Readers, as well, are flooded with books, which sounds great, except that there’s little to filter them for quality in the digital realm. Word of mouth and book blogging have grown and may offer some direction, but it truly is a brave new world out there with plenty of choice for both readers and writers.

In five years time I have no idea what media I’ll be writing in, but I know there will be characters going from one world into another world, and seeing that new world through fresh eyes. That sort of continuity is exciting to me.

 


LouiseCusack Louise Cusack lives in Australia, in a tiny fishing village on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. She's a long-time vegetarian and caffeine addict who mentors other writers when she isn't writing herself. A Trekkie from way back, she loves all thing science fiction and fantasy, especially if it has a good love story.

Louise has been published by Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Pan Macmillan. She writes about intrepid characters entering worlds that are new and strange to them, whether that's an everyday woman from our world traversing a portal into a sepia kingdom, an amorous mermaid stranded on dry land, or a reclusive oyster farmer who must face the modern world when a geek arrives on her doorstep. Louise also works with computer game companies to develop fantasy and sci fi world-building and recently did a stint as a Special Interest speaker on a luxury cruise.

 

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader, by Email or Follow me on twitter.

Aug 4, 2014

Snapshot 2014 - Paul Weimer

SnaphotLogo2014 You are involved with the Hugo nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show. As fan, writer and man who wears many sci-fi hats, what has this nomination meant for you personally?

First of all, it was a complete surprise. Even given the tie to make 7 nominees in the category, I never imagined there was a real chance that it would happen, this year. If you told
me, a decade ago, I'd have a Hugo nomination for anything, I'd not have believed you. Beyond that, its been gratifying. Although you are nominated for work in the past and not
work you are doing now, in a way I feel its a vindication and testament to the World SF tour we are doing this year. The nomination makes me feel we are doing good, recognized work.
And I can forevermore say I was a Hugo nominee.


One of those hats mentioned is "working" for SF Signal, conducting interviews and reviewing books. Is there a specific interview, review or experience that arose because of this work that keeps you engaged and excited by the genre and its community?

I'd flogged it a lot the last year and change, but I have to say it was my piece on Silk Road Fantasy, that I published this year. It was and is a signpost of a lot of things I'd been talking about in regards to this microgenre. When I started hearing authors like Elizabeth Bear talk about their work in this formulation--and to point to me as the person who has helped repopularise the idea, I felt like I had had a real influence on the community and the long conversation.


A Hugo nomination is an outstanding achievement, aside from winning one, what else would you like to achieve as part of your involvement in the community?

I wouldn't mind being a better fan writer, big enough that I'd be in the weight class of those who have been and are being nominated for best fan writer. I'd also like to write some more short fiction, perhaps a novel someday. I don't have major ambitions to be a full time writer in the community, but having a piece or three out there, yes, I'd like to make that mark.
I'd also like to continue to be part of the aforementioned long conversation, and help bring genre into a new and better place. I'd like to help Genre, to paraphrase Ken Macleod, to be in the early days of a better nation.


What Australian works have you loved recently?

First of all, I'd like to give a shout out to Andrew Macrae's Trucksong. It was a strange, phantasmagorical piece of work, very much not what I had been expecting. In my mundane real job, I have a connection to the trucking industry, so there was an especially strange and surreal thrill to hear about futuristic sentient Kenworth trucks. I've idly wondered if my company's products, part of the engine cooling system, exist within these vehicles still.

Beyond that, recently, that depends, slightly, on what you define as Australian. Are Jonathan Strahan's anthologies Australian, even though they collect authors from far beyond Australia?  If so, his Reach For Infinity and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 8 are prima facie evidence that he is one of the best editors in the business today. I haven't read it yet, but I am intrigued by Craig Cormick's The Shadow Master. I got to meet Craig, as he improbably came from Canberra to attend Convergence here in Minnesota recently. We recorded many interviews for Skiffy and Fanty while at Convergence, and he was among them. I was intrigued enough by our conversation to pick up a paper copy of the book. I fair suspect I will be reading that soon.

 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Save the easy question for last, I see. I can see several possibles futures in five years, some of them very good for readers and authors, and some of them that would be disastrous. There is a real struggle for the future of books and publishing among some very large players. I think something is going to fall, somewhere, and the knock on effects of that fall will be impossible to predict. But something is going to give, somewhere, hard.

 



weimer Paul Weimer is a Hugo Nominated podcaster [The Skiffy and Fanty Show 2014], SF Signal Irregular, Genre reviewer/columnist & writer. When he isn’t doing all of that, he loves photography and playing and talking about roleplaying games. You can find him on Twitter as @princejvstin, and commenting on genre blogs far and wide. http://www.skyseastone.net/jvstin

 

 

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


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Snapshot 2014 - Rjurik Davidson

SnaphotLogo2014I am reading Unwrapped Sky at the moment, your first novel which springs from the world created in some of your short fiction. Novels and short stories are obviously very different beasts, what did you hope to achieve with Unwrapped Sky, that couldn't be done in the short form?

A novel allows you to see a society from all angles, so to speak. In Unwrapped Sky, we have the seditionist Maximilian, who is in one sense at the very bottom of society (almost outside it), and you have the House Official Boris, who is rising to the top. The assassin Kata connects the two. In some ways this is an old realist idea of a novel, the kind of thing done by Tolstoy or Zola (and discussed by Lukacs). You get to picture the society in some kind of fragmented totality. You get to throw many ideas against each other, watch them clash. I want my novels to be rich, complex, multilayered. On another level, of course, that richness is expressed in the story itself, the intertwining narratives, which were quite a challenge to write. You can’t do any of that in a short story. A short story is about one or two ideas, two to four characters. It’s compressed, a bright little jewel. A novel is a sprawling feast. This makes a short story harder to write, I think. Or they have different challenges.

 

Your short works are non-realist and range from magical realism to fantasy and are collected in the The Library of Forgotten Books.  It could be just my perception, biased as a reviewer in the Speculative Fiction Field but I fell as though we are sometimes the last bastion for the short story or one of the only genres where there is a healthy proliferation and love for the short story.  With you additional experience as an Associate Editor at Overland Magazine do you think this is the case and if so would you hazard a guess as to why?

The speculative fiction field is blessed in a number of ways. One way is the importance of short stories to its development. The short story is where a lot of the cutting edge of the field can be found. It’s where the most radical stuff is written. But speculative fiction also works a bit like jazz: writers riff off each other work. They conduct a long dialogue over the years, rebuilding each others ideas, talking to each other from story to story. It’s a wonderful thing. This dialogue takes part in a cultural community, one which has its own institutions (conventions, magazines, etc) and this means that the speculative fiction field is able to sail the seas of fate better than the literary world.

Having said that, from the last figures I saw, the short story magazines in SF are struggling more and more. Modern market culture tends to flatten things out. Local cultures are erased, replaced with a global one where there are certain people at the top who everyone reads: George R. R. Martin, or Dan Brown or John Grisham. All the smaller, local publishing ventures get put under great pressure. I think we’ll probably see Fantasy and SF, or Asimov’s Magazine shift online sooner or later, and then they’ll become indistinguishable from the other online sites. That’s just a guess, of course. 

So the fate of the short story is intertwined with that of publishing as a whole, and the one thing that seems obvious is that the market doesn’t care about books, writers or readers. The market cares about profit. When you add in the ease of production and distribution, all the technological developments such as digital publishing, you have a recipe for the demise of the dinosaurs. Recent research in the UK showed that most writers’ incomes had declined to ‘abject’ levels, for example. So in the future, for publishing to survive, we’re going to need to find non-market ways of supporting cultural work. The most practical ways would be independent, but state-sponsored, publishing houses. Kind of BBC’s of publishing. But that’s so wildly far away from where we are today that it’s just an idea.

 

You are working on a film script, The Uncertainty Principle with Ben Chessell.  It is science fictional, so it is no great departure in terms of milieu, but I wanted to ask what you have discovered creatively through the process of writing a script and whether that has caused you to view your short or long form fiction differently? 

Film and TV is all about structure. Working with Ben - whose film Sucker will be out next year - taught me a great deal about how to think about a story. Film typically begins with a beat breakdown - what happens when, expressed in one line - then moves to a larger treatment, then to a fleshed out script. What’s important then are the ‘events’, the skeletal structure of what happens. This was a really steep learning curve for me, who was prone to the prose-writer’s understanding of a story, which sees the flowing passages of inner dialogue, description and so on. We’ve been through many rewrites - on our own and for our former producers (who optioned the film for 2 years) - and I had to overcome my aversion to rewriting structure. We threw out entire scenes, entire acts in fact. When we were doing this, my brain was going “No, wait!” As an example of this, I think you can see George R. R. Martin’s experience in TV coming through in the Game of Thrones novels. His command of structure is unparalleled (in the early books at least). It’s one of the reasons it makes such good TV.

 

What Australian works have you loved recently?

There are some fantastic SF writers in Australia. I might mention Ben Peek’s Dead Americans, for which I wrote an introduction, Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong, the short fiction of Kaaron Warren, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett. I feel back leaving people out because there are so many to mention. It’s a terrific scene: lively and innovative.

 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

They’ve made me much more worried about where we’ll all be in the future. Will prose go the same way as poetry? Read by a small enclave in a vast sea of mass culture? Five years isn’t too far off though, and I hope I’ll be writing more novels and scripts. I’ll be keeping up with the genre, but also reading outside of it (which every SF writer must do). My own work will still be SF. It’s the only thing I can write. I need the ‘what if?’ element to make anything worthwhile. My realist stories are mostly bland (or seem so to me). I’m finishing an Australian steampunk novel at the moment, in which the inland sea still exists and so do the megafauna: diprotodons and marsupial lions and the like. In five years the last of the Caeli-Amur novels will be out. Hopefully that all goes well. I write a lot of non-fiction and am planning to rewrite a book I did on New Wave science fiction. So that will be fun.

 


Promo Rjurik Davidson is a writer of short stories, essays, screenplays and reviews and Associate Editor of Overlandmagazine. His novel Unwrapped Sky is currently available. Sci Fi Now claims it can “go toe-to-toe with China MiĆ©ville’s best.” Kirkus Reviews calls it “Impressively imagined and densely detailed.” And according to Library Journal, it “marks Davidson as an author to watch.” Newtown Review of Books says it’s “one volume you cannot ignore.”  A sequel, The Stars Askew, will be released in April 2015. PS Publishing published a collection of short stories, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. He has been short-listed and won a number of awards.

 

 

 


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:


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