Guest Blog

All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

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August 12, 2014

By now you all know I’m good friends with Angela Slatter. You should also know that I’m a huge fan of her work – it’s great when one of your friends is also one of your favourite writers. One of the best books I’ve read in recent years was Sourdough & Other Stories, Angela’s collection of short stories published by Tartarus Press. Not only is it a collection of brilliant stories, it’s a beautiful artifact of a book too. Tartarus make wonderful things. Well, Angela was supposed to write a sequel collection, but being the contrary writer she is, she wrote a prequel collection instead. It’s called The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. Tartarus agreed to publish it and Angela scored the amazing Kathleen Jennings to do internal illustrations for it. The result is a book even more beautiful than Sourdough, and equally chock full of amazing stories. I know that, because I’ve read it. The book’s not out til September 1st, but we’re friends, remember? So I got Angela and Kathleen to talk a bit about it and the process of its creation. You can read that below. At the end is a link to the Tartarus Press website where you can pre-order the book, and I really, really recommend that you do. And if you haven’t read Sourdough, buy that too and you can read it while you wait. I’m not just talking up my friends here, either – Sourdough was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Aurealis Award for Best Collection. These are books you do not want to miss. Over to Angela and Kathleen.

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Angela3 206x300 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsAngela:

My Author’s Note to Bitterwood goes thus:

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings is intended as a prequel to Sourdough and Other Stories. It was meant to be a sequel, but the tales were determined to defy me—they insisted upon telling what had happened before, to show how the books of Murcianus came to be, how Ella came into the world, where Hepsibah Ballantyne—who appears only as a name on a headstone in Sourdough’s Lodellan cemetery—began the chain of events that are traced through the mosaic of this book. Bitterwood expands and builds upon the world of Sourdough and, I hope, makes readers feel they are coming home once again.

I’d written “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” in 2011 as a standalone story for Steve Jones’s A Book of Horrors anthology, and that seemed the place to start. Hepsibah had gone from being a name on a grave to a powerful presence, so that story is one that threads through the whole of Bitterwood. As I wrote the stories fell into place and I can honestly say that this collection was one of those rare things that a writer dreams of: knowing exactly what was going to happen, when, and to whom. I was able to weave together so many of the things I love: elements of history and myth and fairy tale and folklore. There are little nods to writers as diverse as Umberto Eco and Kim Newman. There are vampires, boarding schools for assassins, pirates who are being hunted to extinction, a brazen head that tells the future, bakeries and rats, transformed badgers and dreadful revenges − and books. So many books.

bitterwood7 225x300 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsAs the narrative came together I started to think not about a cover, strangely, but about internal illustrations. I love Kathleen Jennings’ artwork and I knew she had an ambition to do endpapers, so I asked if she would like to beta read the stories as I finished them and, if perhaps the spirit moved her, do some illustrations as she read? She said yes, which was lucky for me; luckier still the lovely people at Tartarus took both the collection and agreed to use Kathleen’s illustrations. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have drawings done that truly capture the spirit of the tales I wrote. And of course there was the absolute wicked delight of having Kathleen text me photos of what she’d done as she read a story.

It was such a pleasure to work with her and I hope I was a well-behaved author! I don’t think I was critical or asked for any kangaroos to be added to The Last Supper. I’m doubly spoiled because Kathleen also did the artwork for my limited edition collection of Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications), which echoes the silhouette technique of Arthur Rackham, but has its own wonderful unique beauty.

kathleen colour 287x300 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsKathleen:

Angela would keep dropping hints about the most beautiful parts of her stories, often before they were written – badgers (sigh) and a school for poison girls, doors in trees, dangerous quilts… so any workload-related resolve was fairly well weakened by the time she sent me the manuscript, because now they were here! They were real stories in the world, and I could read them!

I spent a lot of time in cafes, reading and sketching, sending Angela texts with reactions and pictures – each gaining energy from the other’s excitement! We’re still doing this, if you saw our comments back and forth when Tartarus released pictures of the Actual Book.

It was a lovely way to work, actually: just a free hand to sketch my way through the book. Because the original plan was to try and sell Tartarus on the idea of endpapers, I was going for multiple small images and the individual pressure was off – I could just draw anything that caught my fancy. And then Angela would edit it out of the manuscript. But anyway.

bbparts All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

I’m still haunted by images from this book. Images and titles (‘Now all pirates are gone’). And Tartarus did a lovely job of putting the pictures in just where they ought to be – Angela and I had to check in with each other to say, “Did you see where they put the badgers? I knowwww!”

Still haven’t drawn endpapers.

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The Tartarus Press website is here and you can buy Sourdough & Other Stories here (This is a link to the paperback. I think the beautiful hardback is sold out, but worth sending an email maybe) and pre-order The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings here. Go. Now!

You can learn more about Angela here and more about Kathleen here.

bitterwoodfinis 300x215 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

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Writing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but at least there are video games – Guest post from Jo Anderton

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June 6, 2014

I host a guest post on this here blog from time to time for various reasons. This one is from my friend and amazing writer, Jo Anderton. Jo’s new book, Guardian (Book 3 of The Veiled Worlds), the final book of the trilogy, is out TOMORROW! It’s a fantastic series and so worth your time and effort. Meanwhile, Jo’s been very honest about what it’s really like to be a writer sometimes and I couldn’t agree with this post more. – Alan

Writing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but at least there are video games

Jo Anderton

6346631813 c4c0f5f59c m Writing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but at least there are video games   Guest post from Jo AndertonI’ve never liked the term “writer’s block”. Even now, I’m not keen on it. Writer’s block sounds like a plumbing problem, with a quick and easy answer possibly involving a plunger. I prefer writer’s “there’s stuff going on and it kinda sucks so let’s learn to be gentle to ourselves, yeah?” Experience has taught me this. Although I admit it’s not as catchy.

There was a lot of that “stuff” going on in my life last year. Some of it was writing related. Some of it was real life related. All of it sucked, and it got in the way, and my writing just… stopped.

This had never happened to me before, and it was awful.

I felt like a failure.

Urg.

There was a long while when I couldn’t have written those words. I’m still tempted to delete them. I didn’t talk about them either, except to my closest writing friends, the ones who would really understand. For everyone else I plastered on the smile, posted on Facebook and tweeted on Twitter, went to work, and neatly changed the subject if writing or stories or books came up. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. I had ideas, I had plans. I even had deadlines. But every time I sat down and managed to squeeze words out onto the keyboard, I hated them. And I mean that in the absolute ugliest sense of the word. I loathed every single thing I came up with, with all my body and soul. They made me sick. They made me angry. They made me cry.

So I gave up trying.

At the time, I thought this made me useless and pointless and absolutely not a writer. But now, I think it’s the best thing I could have done. I let it all go, stopped hating on myself, and found a distraction. In video games. In the Giant Bomb 2009 Persona 4 Endurance Run, to be precise.

Video games have been a distraction of choice for some time now, but this was different. For one thing, there wasn’t any actual playing involved. Instead, hubby and I were absolutely addicted to a video of a couple of blokes playing a long, complicated game that we had already played. Yes, you heard me. We played Persona 4 ages ago and loved it. We knew all the plot twists, how to get the true ending, and when not to cast bufu. We can fuse personas like a boss, sing the Japanese Junes jingle, and spent way too much money in Tokyo on merchandise.

So why the addiction? Jeff and Vinnie from Giant Bomb are hilarious to listen to, so that definitely helped, but I don’t think that quite explains it. At least not for me. It was… comforting. Does that sound strange? Because we’d already been there, explored the world, and knew the characters so well, it felt a little like coming home.

Guardian Cover 632x1024 185x300 Writing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but at least there are video games   Guest post from Jo AndertonEvery day, for at least a couple of months, when I wasn’t at work or forced to leave the house for some other “real life” reason, we sat on the couch and watched the boys from Giant Bomb play Persona 4. At first, I felt awfully guilty about it. I mean, can you think of a lazier thing to do? So I fought the addiction, tried to write, failed, and ended up back on the couch feeling miserable. But after a while, I just gave myself permission to rest, and enjoy it.

That’s where my whole “there’s stuff going on and it kinda sucks so let’s learn to be gentle to ourselves” came in. I stopped being so damned hard on myself. I’m not a blocked drain that needs chemicals or plungers or whatever it takes to get moving again (and this is the last time I use that analogy!). I needed rest, or healing, or something like that, and the Giant Bomb endurance run was the form my healing took.

So that’s what we did, and it worked. I came out the other side of those 155 videos feeling refreshed and ready to write again. I have a few theories as to why. First and foremost, I needed to stop, and I gave myself permission to do so. I know I keep repeating this but I think it’s vital. There’s a lot of advice out there for writers, and one that gets repeated a lot is the whole “write everyday” thing. I agree with this to some extent – not necessarily that you have to write everyday, but rather the message that dedication and routine are essential. However, I now believe that you also need to know when not to write (and learn to tell the difference between laziness, and a genuine need to take time out, or refresh the creativity well).

Second, my writing break had time constraints. I only stopped long enough to watch the endurance run, beginning to end. Which is a considerable amount of time, I am aware of that! But my point is that it wasn’t indefinite. It was a nice, neat little package of downtime. When I was finished with it, I could tape it up, put it away, and get back to normal.

Last but not least is that whole “coming home” thing. I didn’t just mope around feeling awful, but I totally indulged in something that might sound strange to other people, but made me happy. No stresses, no pressure – I wasn’t even doing the playing! I just sunk back into a world I knew and loved, and enjoyed watching other people experience it for the first time.

This is what I’ve learned. Sometimes, writing is hard. And that’s fine. Sometimes, life makes it impossible. And that’s fine too. Just remember to be kind to yourself, and always have a goal to get back on track.

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You can find Jo Anderton online at http://joanneanderton.com/wordpress/ and on Twitter @joanneanderton

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Great Inspiration with Andrew McKiernan

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October 7, 2013

Since I wrote this post about a moment of great inspiration I wasn’t even aware of at the time (when I met Neil Gaiman in 1989), I’ve been hosting some guest posts from other writer friends where they share their moments of equally great inspiration. You can read all the posts so far under the Great Inspiration category here. Today we have a tale of library magic from Andrew McKiernan:

It is impossible for me to separate my desire and inspiration for writing from my original desire and inspiration to read. They both stem from the same source.

When I was a kid, my grandmother was the cleaner for our local public library. I think I went with her a couple of times when I was really young, maybe five years old, but all I did then was make pretty patterns with date-stamps on blank loan cards. Our family moved away for a few years, then came back into the area when I was 9. By that time I’d moved on from mashing date-stamps to Little Golden Books and non-fiction about dinosaurs and space. I hadn’t really read much fiction.

So, I’m 9 yrs old, and two or three nights a week my grandmother would drop by to pick me up. She’d take me with her to the library and I could just hang around while she cleaned. To my 9yr old self, was very different to what I’d experienced 4 yrs before. Picture it. It’s night and the library is closed. Empty. The lights are all off but for a few dim security signs. And all around me, from wall to ceiling and row upon row, are books. So many books!

I wanted to read them all. I wanted to be the sort of person who wrote them.

The main pleasure for me — apart from the awe of being so small in such a large, dark place — was the freedom I had. I knew there was an ‘Adult’ section of the library that I was too young to borrow from. And the strange ‘Adult Reference’ section, whose books were so important that nobody could borrow them and they weren’t allowed to be taken from the library at all! On cleaning nights, these sections were mine and mine alone. My grandmother lay no restrictions upon me. She (with full knowledge of the librarians) allowed me to borrow any book I wanted. Any book!

It was in those years (between ages 9 and 12) that I discovered Charles Dickens and Robert E Howard and HP Lovecraft. Most importantly, I discovered a copy of a book that I knew was ‘NOT FOR KIDS’. My mum had read it. My uncle and aunt and grandmother had read it. I’d seen them with it a few years before and the girl with the bloody face on the cover intrigued me like no other book. When I finally found a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Carrie, the exact same bloody-girl was on the cover. I sat down in the dark between two aisles. Alone. Surrounded by books. I carried a small torch with me and I used it see the pages. I began to read.

I think it was there, at that moment, that I knew I wanted nothing more in life than to tell stories and to read the stories of others.

Libraries will always be a very special place for me. Every one I enter, I imagine what it would look like at night, in the dark. How the ambient light might illume a few feet in front of you. The lined-up spines of books moving past you in the darkness as you walk the aisles. How the lack of vision makes the books smell so much more pungent. So enticing.

And, just like when I was a kid, I imagine that one of the books on that library shelf just might be mine.

Andrew McKiernan is a writer and illustrator. You can read all about him on his wikipedia page here.

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Great inspiration with Jason Franks

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October 3, 2013

Since I wrote this post about a moment of great inspiration I wasn’t even aware of at the time (when I met Neil Gaiman in 1989), I’ve been hosting some guest posts from other writer friends where they share their moments of equally great inspiration. You can read all the posts so far under the Great Inspiration category here. Today we have a tale of discovery from Jason Franks:

A Writer of Earthsea

For my ninth birthday, some kind soul gave me a book called Over the Rainbow: Tales of Fantasy and Imagination. This was an anthology comprised of individual chapters taken from the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, Alan Garner, L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis, H.G. Wells, and others. I had been working through Enid Blyton’s catalogue over the preceding couple of years, so this gift was perfectly judged. I don’t remember who gave me the book, but I sure as hell remember the stories it contained. I still have my copy.

wizard of earthsea by ursula le guin 178x300 Great inspiration with Jason FranksOver the Rainbow was full of amazing work, but the piece that had the biggest and most immediate effect on me was “Warriors in the Mist”, from Ursula Le Guin’s novel A Wizard of Earthsea. It was a happy day when I found the complete book in my local library. I devoured it whole, and then immediately went on its first sequel, The Tombs of Atuan.

I’ve revisited the Earthsea books–the original trilogy and the newer volumes–a number of times throughout my life, and each time I have discovered new wisdom in them, for all their taut plotting and slender spines. These novels were written for children, but they are not in the least bit childish. Le Guin treats her readers as adults, never lecturing or sugar-coating, and her prose remains singularly beautiful. The Earthsea cycle stayed with me because it challenged me in ways that other children’s fiction did not. Once I was done with it I moved on to the general fiction area of the library and I have seldom looked back.

Not only do the stories Le Guin presents prefigure my own concerns as a writer, but they in many ways parallel my writer’s journey. In A Wizard of Earthsea, the hero, Ged, engages with many of the usual tropes of fantasy literature–defending the village, fighting the dragons, travelling off the map, and so on–but there’s never a sense of glory to his victories. This is not a book about good versus evil. Ged does not undertake a quest to stop some cosmic threat: Earthsea is built on Taoist principles and the narrative soon turns away from the expected progression of events. Despite his accomplishments, Ged is forever scarred by his early mistakes. This book is about the hero coming to terms with his own personal failings.

As I have started to meet my writing goals–first acceptance, first cheque, first time in print, first solo title–I have found little relish in the victories. By the time I have attained one goal I am already fixated on the next. This is the lesson of Earthsea: the shadow that pursues you does not care about what you have already achieved. Your story isn’t over until you turn and face it.

Jason Franks writes comics, prose and source code. His first novel, Bloody Waters, was short-listed for an Aurealis Award. He is the author of the Sixsmiths and McBlack graphic novels. Find him online at www.jasonfranks.com.

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Great Inspiration… or not – with Peter Watts

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September 30, 2013

Since I wrote this post about a moment of great inspiration I wasn’t even aware of at the time (when I met Neil Gaiman in 1989), I’ve been hosting some guest posts from other writer friends where they share their moments of equally great inspiration. You can read all the posts so far under the Great Inspiration category here. It’s really cool to have these people share inspiring moments with us. Or not, in the case of Peter Watts. And Peter’s response made me realise that some readers might be a bit concerned if they couldn’t put their finger on a moment of equal importance in their own lives. As you can see from his comments below, you really needed worry about that. After Peter responded to my email, making me realise this potential angle, I asked if I could post his comments anyway, as an example to others that a moment of great clarity (even realised much later) is not actually necessary. I mean, this is Hugo Award-winning Peter Watts. Author of the Rifters and Blindsight (the seminal first contact novel.) So take heart:

Your email got me thinking– and oddly, I can’t think of anything in my life that proved especially pivotal or inspirational. I wanted to be a writer ever since I plagiarized 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the age of seven; I wanted to be a marine biologist ever since I stumbled across a friend’s 10-gal aquarium the year before. Ever since then, y trajectory’s been relatively unwavering.

I discovered the three brands of author most relevant to my own development (1 – How can this bozo be selling so well when he can’t write his way out of a goddamn fortune cookie?; 2 – Oh, I see how you did that, that’s brilliant. Now I know how to do it too. Too bad I can’t because you already did it first; and 3 – You told me exactly what you were going to do before you did it, and I thought you were crazy, and then you went ahead and did it and I still have no idea how you pulled it off.)

I think I may have petted William Gibson’s cat once (at least, I’m pretty sure it was Gibson’s doorstep the cat was sitting on). But there was no one-on-one meeting, no life-changing experience that set my course. I’d like to say that some Monty Python cutout God appeared in the heavens and told me I’d have to get a day job as a marine biologist before I could break out and become a midlist SF writer, but really, it was just kinda steady-as-she-goes.

Sorry.

No apology needed, Peter. That’s actually quite inspiring in itself.

Peter Watts is an outstanding author and fascinating guy. I highly recommend you read his full bio here, on his site, rifters.com

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Great Inspiration – guest post from Jason Nahrung

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September 27, 2013

Last week I posted about the time, back in 1989, when I met Neil Gaiman and got a signed copy of Sandman #1, with no idea at the time of the significance of the event. You can see that post here. At the end of the post I said I would put the call out to my writerly friends and see if any of them had similar inspirations in their lives they might like to share. The wonderful Thoraiya Dyer got back to me with this excellent post and Martin Livings wrote me this great post. Now I have a little something from Jason Nahrung:

When art and circumstance collide.

It was back in 2011 when I’d been to an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria about the Secessionist movement — Gustav Klimt is probably the most famous of them. But it was a painting by Oskar Kokoschka, of a Count Verona, and the enigmatic personality of seamstress and muse Emilie Floge that really got under my skin.

Lo, the very next day, an email arrived announcing a new anthology, Tales from the Bell Club (KnightWatch Press, 2012), looking for stories set in a time period that included the Secessionists. A little more research about Verona and the group, and ‘The Kiss’ was born, incorporating Emilie and Gustav and Oskar, a tuberculosis clinic and a cult led by another enigmatic figure, the Comte de St Germain (under one of his nom de plumes).

One of those wonderful moments when arts and circumstances collided, and I got to be an Austrian suffragette of the early 1900s.

Thanks to Amazon’s Look Inside feature, you can read (and buy) the end product here.

This is the Verona painting:

verona web Great Inspiration   guest post from Jason Nahrung

And here’s Emilie:

emilie web 240x300 Great Inspiration   guest post from Jason Nahrung

Jason Nahrung is a Ballarat-based writer and editor. His latest novel is Blood and Dust, an outback vampire adventure melding Mad Max and Anne Rice. www.jasonnahrung.com

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Great Inspiration – guest post from Martin Livings

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September 25, 2013

Last week I posted about the time, back in 1989, when I met Neil Gaiman and got a signed copy of Sandman #1, with no idea at the time of the significance of the event. You can see that post here. At the end of the post I said I would put the call out to my writerly friends and see if any of them had similar inspirations in their lives they might like to share. The wonderful Thoraiya Dyer got back to me with this excellent post, and today I have a post from Martin Livings:

The Year 1990

1990 was the year that made me. Or ruined me, depending on your point of view. I’d already been writing and submitting stories to the only local SF magazine I knew of, a trashy little beast called “Far Out”. They were amazing tales I sent them, like the one about the advanced civilisation being wiped out by a natural disaster, only to be revealed that it was actually an ants’ nest being stepped on by a small child. Or the one about the two armies fighting to the death that turned out to be a game of chess. Wow, incredible stuff. I wonder why they never accepted them?

Then in 1990 I attended Curtin University for less than a semester, my second unsuccessful foray into academic life. But during that semester, I joined the Curtin Imagination Association (CIA), as a high school friend of mine was already a member, and through them found out about the existence of Swancon, the annual Perth science fiction convention. So I thought, what the hell, sounds like it could be fun, and went along.

And that, as they say, was that.

The guest of honour was the brilliant Terry Dowling. I’d never heard of Terry before that, but hearing him talk, hearing him read, I was gone. Here was an Australian spec fic writer, doing things I’d never seen done in spec fic before. Rynosseros blew my tiny mind; I still have the copy I bought at the con, signed by Terry. I also met Nick Stathopolous for the first time there, artist extraordinaire. And it wasn’t just meeting them, either, but all of the people there, people like me, yet all different too. I wasn’t alone any more. It was energising and liberating to discover this.

These were huge inspirations, but the biggest inspiration that came out of Swancon 1990 was meeting the incredible team that were putting together what was at the time (and in my humble opinion still is) the finest Australian spec fic journal ever, Eidolon. Meeting the editors, Jeremy G. Byrne, Richard Scriven and Jonathan Strahan, plus of course the others involved in getting the magazine up and running, Keira McKenzie, Robin Pen and Chris Stronach, was like a lightbulb going off in my brain. Or maybe a nuclear explosion. These guys were locals, they were here in Perth, and they were doing incredible things with the genre.

I wanted in. I wanted in bad.

bjaheiff Great Inspiration   guest post from Martin Livings

(Martin in home-made Freddy Krueger makeup, Swancon 1990)

It took me two years to get a story accepted by them. That sounds like a long time, but considering the legendary slowness of the Eidolon reading process, it was actually pretty quick. At around the same time, I also had a story accepted by Aurealis, the other local powerhouse on the scene, which I’m so glad is still alive and well today. I ended up working for Eidolon in the end, first writing book reviews, then editing the book review column, and finally as an associate editor. I made so many great friends through this; Sean Williams and Kirstyn McDermott were two of my favourite go-to book reviewers, and of course the amazing (and Oscar-winning!) Shaun Tan was the art editor, to name only three of many. But more than that, I learned. I learned about the craft and the art. I learned what was good, what was bad, and, worse, what was ordinary and dull. I learned more than I ever could have in any university.

1990, Swancon and Eidolon teamed up and created the beginning of my writing career. And even though Eidolon may no longer be with us, it sits on my bookshelf and continues to inspire me, to make me want to do better, write better, be better. Hopefully it always will.

Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had nearly eighty short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and his first short story collection, Living With the Dead, was published in 2012 by Dark Prints Press. http://www.martinlivings.com

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Great Inspiration – guest post from Thoraiya Dyer

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September 23, 2013

Last week I posted about the time, back in 1989, when I met Neil Gaiman and got a signed copy of Sandman #1, with no idea at the time of the significance of the event. You can see that post here. At the end of the post I said I would put the call out to my writerly friends and see if any of them had similar inspirations in their lives they might like to share. The wonderful Thoraiya Dyer got back to me with this excellent post:

Inspirational things – The Empire Trilogy by Feist and Wurts

daughter 183x300 Great Inspiration   guest post from Thoraiya DyerDaughter of the Empire, by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, was published in 1987.

I didn’t read it until 1992. That year, the third book in the series came out; I saw my mother actually go without food so that she could buy the book and find out the fate of Mara, Lady of the Acoma.

Meanwhile, I was just starting high school. Daughter of the Empire had a turreted, cathedral-looking castle and a blonde with a broadsword on the cover. Yet the first line was: “The priest struck the gong.” I’d sure never seen a gong in a cathedral.

I hadn’t heard of whitewashing in 1992 but soon lost myself in a story devoid of blondes. There were no turrets. There weren’t even any broadswords. The fascinating tale of a teenage girl inheriting the leadership of a once-mighty feudal family and battling with her wits to keep from being crushed by her rivals kept me absolutely riveted to the very last page.

Along the way there were honour-bound Tsurani warriors that sounded suspiciously like samurai. Grey warriors that might have been ronin. There were wood-framed palaces with paper screens instead of solid walls. There were spies who did not brawl like James Bond but infiltrated like ninjas.

Later, I discovered that Feist and Wurts had used Korea and Ancient Rome as their inspiration, but by then, barking up the wrong tree, I’d already delved into all things Japanese.

I took Japanese for my language elective that year. When Mum asked if I wanted to do netball or soccer, I told her I wanted to do karate. I read Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and The Book of Five Rings. I set my alarm for 3am to get up and watch inappropriately classified and poorly dubbed anime while drinking green tea. Pre-internet, I sent physical letters to the Japanese pen pal I later met on my first amazing trip to Japan.

I learned enough about this other culture that when older Australians with hangovers from World War II told me that the Japanese were a cruel and inhuman race, I could set them straight in no uncertain terms.

The cultural diversity to be found in today’s SFF is an absolute joy to me but I’ll never forget where I found it first. The vivid fantasy world of the fictional Empire was not Japan, not Korea and not Ancient Rome. Some might argue, today, that the borrowed elements of it were not Feist’s or Wurts’ to borrow, but what they did, while they were borrowing it, was wave it in my young, impressionable face and say, “Look! How incredibly cool is this? People can live lives that are completely different to yours, so different that you’ll never be able to look at your own culture the same way again, and yet just as rich, just as dangerous, just as colourful, just as gut-wrenching, just as meaningful and just as true.”

I’ll owe them a debt forever, because of that.

I’ve borrowed many places and people in my short fiction that didn’t belong to me. I’ve set stories in Nepal, Scotland, the Caribbean and New South Wales pre-colonisation. I’ve written Spaniards and South Americans, Quakers and Christian Saints.

When I make mistakes, I’m very sorry for it, I feel inadequacy and terrible remorse, but I hope that for every person offended by my ignorance, five more will be inspired to go to the source, to museums or the internet, to film, art, fiction or non-fiction made or written by people who are of that culture or to meet and speak with those people, and become immersed, drinking up all the detail I could not give them, because all I was really doing, all I was trying to do, was shout out to my readers, “Look! How incredibly cool is this?”

Thoraiya Dyer is an Australian writer who lives online at http://www.thoraiyadyer.com . Her four-story collection, Asymmetry, is available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Asymmetry-Twelve-Planets-ebook/dp/B00BWWK94W ), Wizard’s Tower (http://www.wizardstowerbooks.com/products/asymmetry-thoraiya-dyer ) or direct from Twelfth Planet Press (http://www.twelfthplanetpress.com/products/paperbacks/asymmetry ). The naginata, or Japanese halberd, a women’s weapon of feudal times, features in one of the stories.

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Russell’s Rough Syllabus – Short Fiction from the 1980s and 1990s

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June 21, 2013

This is a guest post from editor extraordinaire and owner of Australian indie powerhouse press, Ticonderoga Publications, Russell B Farr. I’ll let Russ explain how this came about.

Russell’s Rough Syllabus

Short Fiction from the 1980s and 1990s

I was shooting my mouth off on Facebook about how it seemed that a bunch of Australians who came into the field seemed to have gaps when it came to recent classics. My second mistake was being very unclear as to what I meant by recent classics.

Alan Baxter called my bluff and told me to make a list, and in the spirit of put up or shut up, I have done so below.

What do we mean by classics anyway? Are they just the award winners – if that’s the case then I’d urge folks to go out and read all of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Ditmar, and Aurealis Award winners from 1980-1999. That’s not really a subjective list, though, it’s a research project. Same with suggesting that the various Year’s Bests of the period are recommended reading: they are but that’s not the point of the exercise.

So I thought, if I wanted to take a bunch of new readers through a crash course in two decades of the genre, unleashing all manner of themes, works that stood out for challenging the reader, for superlative writing, for a range of styles, which stories would I deem to be unmissable, compulsory reading? Like a syllabus, only I’m too lazy to group these in an order that would make sense. I’ve also skipped the boundaries of subgenres, as I’m not a huge one for labels.

A definitive list would run into hundreds of stories. I’ve tried to be restrained, picking no more than two stories from any writer (except Howard Waldrop, but we all know he’s an incredibly special case). And looking over the list I can see a number of glaring omissions, stories that could be added, and as a slight indulgence have tacked on an extra 6 at the end that I couldn’t squeeze in anywhere else.

If you want to learn to write a great story, I think this list is as good a place as any to start. In the 30 and 6 stories below are unforgettable characters, challenging ideas, stunning narrative twists, examples of the very best that the very best genre has to offer.

If you want to know how great the short story can be, I urge you to track these down, consume them, and let them blow your mind.

1980s

1. “Her Furry Face”, Leigh Kennedy
2. “All My Darling Daughters”, Connie Willis
3. “The Ugly Chickens”, Howard Waldrop
4. “Flying Saucer Rock & Roll”, Howard Waldrop
5. “Night of the Cooters”, Howard Waldrop
6. “My Lady Tongue”, Lucy Sussex
7. “Rachel in Love”, Pat Murphy
8. “Touring”, Michael Swanwick, Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann
9. “Till Human Voices Wake Us”, Lewis Shiner
10. “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything”, George Alec Effinger
11. “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter”, Lucius Shepard
12. “On the Turn”, Leanne Frahm
13. “Heavenly Flowers”, Pamela Sargent
14. “Kirinyaga”, Mike Resnick
15. “Slow Music”, James Tiptree Jr

1990s

1. “Beggars in Spain”, Nancy Kress
2. “Haiti”, Steven Utley
3. “The Country Doctor”, Steven Utley
4. “The Chop Girl” Ian R. MacLeod
5. “Reasons to be Cheerful”, Greg Egan
6. “Merlusine”, Lucy Sussex
7. “The Phoenix”, Isobelle Carmody
8. “Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates”, Pat Murphy
9. “Foreign Devils”, Walter Jon Williams
10. “The Night We Buried Road Dog”, Jack Cady
11. “Bold As Love”, Gwyneth Jones
12. “Bears Discover Fire”, Terry Bisson
13. “Even The Queen”, Connie Willis
14. “Ursus Triad, Later”, Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg
15. “Niagara Falling”, Janeen Webb and Jack Dann

And for extra credit

1. “The Caress”, Greg Egan
2. “The Magi”, Damien Broderick
3. “Pretty Boy Crossover”, Pat Cadigan
4. “Rock On”, Pat Cadigan
5. “The Paladin of the Lost Hour”, Harlan Ellison
6. “Replacements”, Lisa Tuttle

I can’t thank Russell enough for this – it’s a fantastic effort. And there are several stories above that I haven’t read, so I’ll be tracking them down. And I should point out that Russ really knows his stuff, as evidenced by all the amazing books he and his partner in life and Ticonderoga, Liz Grzyb, have produced by seriously talented authors. Go to the Ticonderoga site and peruse the amazing anthologies and collections of short fiction available there. – Alan

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Don’t You Dare Write What You Know!

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May 2, 2013

I’m running my Write The Fight Right workshop at the Writer’s Centre in Adelaide on May 12th, and as part of the lead up to that, the SA Writers’ Centre asked me for a guest post for their blog. Here’s what I wrote:

You’ve heard the old adage, I’m sure. Write what you know. That’s all very well, but it’s actually a terrible piece of advice. After all, we all know some stuff, but not much in the grand scheme of things. And if we only write what we know, we’ll soon run out of things to write about. Besides that, one of the things I enjoy most about writing is the excuse it gives me to learn new stuff. For example, I’ve never been in a cult, but when I was writing MageSign I needed to understand how cults work as they were integral to the novel’s plot. So I went off to study all about them and learned a lot. Having a psychiatrist for a mother-in-law is generally about as much fun as it sounds, but in this instance it proved invaluable…

Read the rest at the SAWC Blog here.

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