Paula Guran on what defines Dark Fantasy and Horror

Ah, this is an eternal old chestnut. Way back in 2006, in the early days of this blog, I had a post about the difference between dark fantasy and horror. That post is here. I still stand mostly by it. However, in the introduction to the 2010 edition of Paula Guran’s “Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010”, she had this to say:

There’s no single definition. “Dark fantasy” isn’t universally defined—the definition depends on the context in which the phrase is used or who is elucidating it. It has, from time to time, even been considered as nothing more than a marketing term for various types of fiction.

Darkness itself can be many things: nebulous, shadowy, tenebrous, mysterious, paradoxical (and thus illuminating)…

A dark fantasy story might be only a bit unsettling or perhaps somewhat eerie. It might be revelatory or baffling. It can be simply a small glimpse of life seen “through a glass, darkly.” Or, in more literary terms (all of which are debatable), it might be any number of things—as long as the darkness is there: weird fiction (new or old) or supernatural fiction or magical realism or surrealism or the fantastique or the ever-ambiguous horror fiction.

As for defining horror: Since horror is something we feel—it’s an emotion, an affect—what each of us experiences, responds or reacts to differs.

I really like what she says there and it’s further proof that genre definitions are heinously hard to pin down.

You can read the full intro here, and I suggest you do.

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Bound is done

It’s a terrifying feeling, to let go of a book. To say, “Okay, this is as good as I can make it and it’s time to let it go.” There’s that saying – Great art is never finished, only abandoned. There’s a lot of truth to it. Eventually you have to say, “Enough!” And I just have with Bound, the first Alex Caine book. I approved or not the last copy edits, made the last few tweaks and sent the manuscript back to HarperVoyager yesterday. That’s it. No more. Once the typesetter puts in those last changes we’re done. That’s the book that will be published in July. I can’t have anything more to do with it. It belongs to the readers now. And, fuck, I hope they like it!

I like it. I really do. I’m terrified, racked with self-doubt like always, of course. That destructive little voice is still whispering away. You’re a fucking fraud, it mutters. This book, it’ll ruin you. People will read it and laugh. Reviewers will refuse to even give it a rating. Not worthy of a single star. They’ll invent a new way to anti-review books just for you. It’ll get MINUS FIVE STARS!

Honestly, that voice is a complete bollocks. It never goes away. But I draw a deep breath and tell it to go fuck itself. Because I’ve worked my arse off on this book and I’m really bloody proud of it. People I hugely respect – Paul Haines, Angela Slatter, Joanne Anderton, Kylie Chan – have endorsed it. All amazing writers and they tell me it’s good. HarperVoyager are totally behind it. It would be disingenuous of me to insist in the face of all that support that the book is shit. Of course there will be people who don’t like it. You can never write something that everyone will love. And I can already think of things that I might do differently if I had a chance. But I have to let go of those things. I have to accept that I’ve written a good book here, one I can be proud of and stand tall.

Come July, when it’s released, I’ll be a mess, I’m sure. I’ll be breathing into a paper bag and intravenously consuming single malt scotch. But regardless, I’m proud as fuck of this book. And of Obsidian and Abduction, which follow it and will both be released in quick succession after Bound. I’ve yet to do the last edits and release on those, so I don’t have to let them go just yet. But I will. I’ve seen the covers (not yet finished, but close) and they are brilliant. I honestly can’t wait to share these books with the world and I really hope they go down well. I know I’ve done the best I can and hopefully that’ll show.

Bound is done and out of my hands. It’s a very strange feeling – exultation and trepidation. But it’s a good feeling. Fuck, yeah!

Excuse me, I gotta go find a paper bag.

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The Writing Process blog chain

I got linked into this latest bloggy memey thing by Zena Shapter. You can see her post on the subject here. The idea is that writers answer four questions that talk about their work and their process and then tag three other writers to do the same. Anybody reading along gets to see all the various ways people work. If I’ve learned anything along this weird and unforgiving writer’s road it’s that there is simply no right way to go about it. “Writer’s rules” are usually bollocks and can’t possibly apply to everyone. They’re a good guide, maybe, sometimes, but there is only one rule that applies to everyone: To be a writer, you must write. Simple as that. How you go about it is as variable as the types of stories you might come up with. But I’ve ranted on this subject before, so I’ll leave it at that. In the meantime, maybe clicking through a few of these posts will help to illuminate a variety of options.

1. What am I working on?

Well, having just delivered book three of The Alex Caine Series to HarperVoyager, I currently have no deadlines. Which is a pleasant feeling, although I was enjoying the pressure of those deadlines while they were there. However, it leaves me free to work on anything I like, so I’m back to a novel I started in the middle of last year, then had to put aside to get Alex Caine stuff finished. This new novel is a standalone book, a kind of horror/noir/dark urban fantasy thing. I’m still formulating notes and getting organised, but the first few thousand words are down. It’s an exciting stage, just getting into a new project with all the possibilities that entails.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t really know how to answer this. I like to think my writing voice is uniquely my own, so I guess it differs in as much as it’s an Alan Baxter book. You often see people, when asked for writing advice, give some variation of “Write the book only YOU can write”. That’s a hard thing to do, as it takes a long while to find your voice and style, but I like to think I’m finding mine.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because it’s hella fun and it’s what I love to read.

4. How does my writing process work?

I sit at my desk and sob and cry and tear at my scalp (my hair has long since left the building) until words bleed out of my face. Well, that’s not entirely true, but it’s what it feels like sometimes. In truth, I’m a hybrid pantser/planner. I start with ideas for characters and story and I make all kinds of notes. When I’m ready to actually begin work on a book, I write down a very loose timeline of key events and then I start to write. Those key events can easily change if new ideas come to me, or the story starts going in directions I didn’t expect. I enjoy the organic process of letting my subconscious work and let the story tell itself. I try not to backtrack too much during the first draft – I like to plough on steadily until the first draft is complete. I’ll make notes along the way of things that I know will need fixing in the second draft. Then I go and fix those things in that second draft and then go through a few more drafts, fixing and polishing and caressing until I think the book is as good as it can get at that point in time. Then I send it out to beta readers and brace myself for their critique and feedback. Then I redraft again and again based on their comments and observations and hopefully I end up with a good book.

Then I start all over again. Because I’m a fucking professional. And something of masochist. But then, all writers are, really.

And to keep this things rolling, next week you’ll see posts from the three writers I tagged:

Joanne Anderton

Andrew McKiernan

Robert Hood

So be sure to check out their blogs.

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2013 Aurealis Awards finalists announced

AA-logoAfter a record number of entries, the finalists for the 2013 Aurealis Awards have been announced.

The Aurealis Awards are Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards. The ceremony will take place April 5, 2014 in Canberra. The venue is the Great Hall, University House, Australian National University.

Doors open 7pm for drinks, ceremony begins at 8pm. Details here: http://www.aurealisawards.com/

Congratulations to all the very worthy nominees!

The 2013 Aurealis Awards Finalists are:

BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOK OR GRAPHIC NOVEL

Savage Bitch by Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr (Scar Studios)

Mr Unpronounceable Adventures by Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)

Burger Force by Jackie Ryan (self-­‐published)

Peaceful Tomorrows Volume Two by Shane W Smith (Zetabella Publishing)

The Deep Vol. 2: The Vanishing Island by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer (Gestalt Publishing)

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK

Kingdom of the Lost, book 2: Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)

Refuge by Jackie French (Harper Collins)

Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)

The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray (Allen & Unwin)

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Ice Breaker: The Hidden 1 by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORTFICTION

“Mah Song” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)

“By Bone-­‐light” by Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon, Ticonderoga Publications)

“Morning Star” by D.K. Mok (One  Small Step, an anthology of discoveries, FableCroft Publishing)

“The Year of Ancient Ghosts”  by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient  Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

The Big Dry by Tony Davies (Harper Collins)

Hunting by Andrea Host (self-­‐published)

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan  Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse  Near (Random House  Australia)

The Sky So Heavy  by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

BEST HORROR SHORT FICTION

“Fencelines” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)

“The Sleepover” by Terry Dowling (Exotic  Gothic 5, PS Publishing)

“The Home for Broken Dolls” by Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts, Twelfth Planet Press)

“The Human  Moth” by Kaaron Warren (The Grimscribe’s Puppets, Miskatonic Press)

“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

BEST HORROR  NOVEL

The Marching Dead by  Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)

The First Bird by  Greig Beck (Momentum)

Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart (FableCroft Publishing)

Fairytales for  Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)

BEST FANTASY SHORT FICTION

“The Last Stormdancer” by  Jay Kristoff (Thomas Dunne Books)

“The  Touch of the  Taniwha” by Tracie McBride (Fish, Dagan  Books)

“Cold, Cold War” by Ian McHugh  (Beneath Ceaseless Skies,  Scott H  Andrews)

“ShortCircuit” by Kirstie Olley (Oomph: a little  super goes a long  way, Crossed Genres)

“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts,  Ticonderoga Publications)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Lexicon by Max Barry  (Hachette Australia)

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan (self-­‐published)

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan  Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (Jill Grinberg Literary Management)

Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner  Roberts (FableCroft Publishing)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT FICTION

“The Last Tiger” by Joanne Anderton (Daily Science Fiction)

“Mah Song” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and  Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)

“Seven Days in Paris” by  Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry, Twelfth Planet Press)

“Version 4.3.0.1” by Lucy Stone (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57)

“Air, Water and  the Grove” by Kaaron Warren  (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium Press)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette)

Trucksong  by Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet Press)

A Wrong  Turn At The Office  Of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)

True Path by Graham Storrs (Momentum)

Rupetta by Nike Sulway (Tartarus Press)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012  by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Eds), (Ticonderoga Publications)

One  Small Step, An Anthology  Of Discoveries by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

Dreaming Of Djinn by Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)

The Best Science Fiction  And Fantasy Of The  Year: Volume Seven by Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (NightShade Books)

Focus 2012: Highlights Of Australian Short Fiction by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

BEST COLLECTION

The Bone Chime Song and  Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (FableCroft Publishing)

Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)

Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet Press)

The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publications)

The Year  of Ancient Ghosts by Kim  Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

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The great Le Guin re-read

EarthseaI’ve decided to re-read all the Earthsea books by Ursula K Le Guin. Well, I say re-read,  but I’ve not read them all for the first time yet. I can’t remember how old I was when I read the first one, A Wizard of Earthsea, but I do remember that it blew my tiny mind. At a guess, I’d say I was probably 10 or 11 years old. After that I consumed the next two – The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore. I didn’t know there was any more to Earthsea than that. At the time, there wasn’t. But there is now, as the pic at the top left there shows.

The books in the pic are in order and include all the Earthsea novels and short stories, but I’ve only ever read those first three. Those beloved, well-thumbed Penguin editions. According to Wikipedia, the books were published thus:

A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published by the small press Parnassus in 1968. Set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, the story relates the education of a young mage named Ged under the tutelage of his aunt (a village witch), as an apprentice to a wizard, at a school of wizardry, and finally through a quest of self-discovery. The tale of Ged’s growth and development continues in four subsequent novels, which are set a few years later and towards the end of his long life.

Le Guin’s so-called Earthsea cycle came to include the novels The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu (1990), and The Other Wind (2001). The author has also written seven short stories set in Earthsea, two of which preceded the novels.

So that’s what I have there, waiting to be read. I’m very excited to be starting on this journey again. I rarely re-read anything, as there’s so much out there and I want to read new things. But old favourite books are like old favourite places, magical to revisit. Especially books read when you’re young. They’re like the best summer holiday you ever had and whenever you go to that part of the world again it means so much more, layered with nostalgia. Of course, sometimes it’s a problem. Sometimes the book turns out to be awful and just happened to be perfect for your young mind at that time (*cough*Magician*cough*). Or the great holiday location turns out to be a tiny, dirty beach right by an industrial waste site and it’s only so strong in your memory because you got to touch the boob of Lucy from Leicester, who you never saw again, but it painted what was actually an awful two weeks in shades of rose and honey.

However, in this case, it’s not a problem. Le Guin is a master of her craft and these books are so good. I’m about halfway through A Wizard of Earthsea again and the prose, the language, the ideas, the descriptions, they’re all as fantastic as I remember. Whether the other books will hold up and whether the ones I’ve never yet read will be as good or worse or better I’ll find out as I go along.

One thing that’s for sure, I can’t wait to introduce my son to these books. That’s partly why I’m reading again now, to get an idea of how old he might need to be. I’ve got loads of time, he’s only 4 months old now. But one day, I’ll hand him A Wizard of Earthsea and know without a doubt that I’m handing him a piece of magic. Altering magic, that shapes minds and ideals. There are so many other things I can’t wait to show him and my favourite books and movies are high on the list. I really can’t wait. My son, I have such sights to show you. (Although I might save that one until he’s in his teens at least.)

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