Tuesday Toot – Jodi Cleghorn and Deck The Halls

Tuesday Toot is a semi-regular feature here. An invite-only series of short posts where writers, editors, booksellers and other creatives have been asked to share their stuff and toot their own horn. It’s hard to be seen in the digital morass and hopefully this occasional segment will help some of the quality stuff out there get noticed. It should all be things that regular readers here will find edifying.

This time, it’s Jodi Cleghorn talking about something I can really get behind. Take it away, Jodi!

Who is Jodi?

Jodi (@jodicleghorn) is an author, editor, publisher and innovator.

By day (and sometimes night), she runs the many facets of eMergent Publishing (eP), a small press dedicated to nurturing next-crop authors, editors and visual artists.

Between the cracks she chases her own characters in a blending of themes and genres best described as “dark weird shit”. Fruits of these adventures include the collaborative epistolary serial Post Marked: Piper’s Reach and Elyora (Review of Australian Fiction—special edition), a horror novella set just off the New England Highway.

She’s occasionally known to loiter at her blog 1000 Pieces of Blue Sky.

What are you tooting about?

Deck the Halls: festive tales of fear and cheer, the first and most recent (I can explain) publication from eP’s Literary Mix Tapes imprint of conceptual anthologies. But first…that explanation.

Born From…

The origins of Deck the Halls are bizarre, to say the least.

In December 2010 I created a shit storm on Facebook when I commented about my displeasure with the overtly Christian tone of the carols night at my son’s school. (He goes to a state school with a diverse ethnic demographic and I felt it totally inappropriate to push any one brand of religious fervour, when their Easter bonnet parade is included as a ‘cultural’ event on the school’s calendar, devoid of religious connotations).

I know, I know, Christmas is a Christian holiday… but, historically, it was many other things before the Christian’s got their pesky hands on it.

Rather than whinge—or delete the exploding Facebook thread (with people telling me, among other things, how intolerant I was)—I decided to publish a bunch of twisted, non-traditional Christmas tales. It’s apparently the sort of therapy an editor-writer-publisher seeks out in the wake of a social media implosion.

In The Beginning

The original idea was to rope nine friends into writing stories based on the lyrics of Deck the Halls (the idea of a troll for Christmas set my imagination on fire as I sat there in the hot, humid school hall!) and then publish the stories online on Christmas Eve. First, I contacted Jim Wisneski to get his blessings (I was riffing off his idea from 12 Days project) and then sent announcements out through the usual channels to see who was interested. I referred to the project as a Literary Mix Tape (a concept everyone immediately got and a name that’s stuck.)

Nine places became nineteen places, with the caveat everyone was to beta read for each other—I was too busy to edit. On Christmas Eve twenty twisted stories—rocking the dark and light side of the Christmas and New Year period—went up, one an hour, on a dedicated website. Christmas Day I made all the stories available as a free eBook.

Beyond Christmas

The ideas of writing to musical prompts and cooperative submission (a term later coined by Tom Dullemond) found traction. That traction spawned the official launch of Literary Mix Tapes (as an imprint under the eMergent Publishing umbrella) and three more anthologies: Nothing But Flowers: tales of post apocalyptic love, Eighty Nine and From Stage Door Shadows [I have a story in that one! – Alan]. Two years on I am still amazed that of all the ideas I’ve had over the years, this was the one that garnered the most enthusiasm. Many of the cornerstones of the LMT imprint, and the way each anthology is released, can be directly traced back to that very first Christmas adventure.

Redux

I felt the original authors deserved to see their stories in a paperback, so I rebooted Deck the Halls in 2011, opening ten (then twelve) new places in the anthology. Andrew McKiernan offered to do the front cover (based on Susan May James’ chilling story, “Bosch’s Troll”). This Thursday (6th December) a revised, revamped, extended and fully edited edition of Deck the Halls goes on worldwide sale as Deck the Halls: tales of festive fear and cheer.

DECK THE HALLS traverses the joy and jeopardy of the festive season, from Yule to Mōdraniht, Summer Solstice to Years’ End. The stories journey through consternations and celebrations, past, present and future, which might be or never were.

Along the way you’ll meet troll hunters, consumer dissidents, corset-bound adventurers, a joint-toking spirit, big-hearted gangbangers, an outcast hybrid spaceship, petrol-toting politicians, mythical swingers and a boy who unwittingly controls the weather.

Heart-warming and horrifying, the collection is a merry measure of cross-genre, short fiction subverting traditional notions of the holiday season.

At under $20 for the paperback (or $4.95 for the eBook) it’s a brilliant stocking stuffer or Secret Santa present. Better still, treat yourself to a copy and use it as an antidote to everything irritating, painful and nauseating about the holiday season.

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Publetariat Omnibus ebook

I started out as an indie author, and I still believe the hybrid model, where writers combine aspects of self-publishing and traditional publishing, is the best way forward. I have some self-published stuff out there, plenty of traditionally published stuff too and I have every intention of continuing in that vein. And regardless of how your stuff gets out there, a lot of the processes are much the same. For a long time now I’ve been a regular contributor at Publetariat.com, a website built for indie authors, but also of enormous benefit to small press owners, indie collectives and even big publishers for that matter. The powerhouse behind Publetariat is April Hamilton and she has now put together an ebook which collects all the best advice from the first four years of Publetariat.com into one handy resource.

A few of the articles in there are mine, and I share the pages with some very well-informed folks. Here’s the official blurb:

A compendium of advice, lessons learned and how-tos from leading authors, publishing industry pros, consultants and subject area experts, drawn from the first four years of Publetariat.com’s operation. They’ve been there, done that, and now they’re sharing their lessons learned. This book includes articles written by:

Alan Baxter, Julian Block, Mark Coker, Melissa Conway, Nick Daws, Joel Friedlander, April L. Hamilton, Joseph C. Kunz Jr., Cheri Lasota, M. Louisa Locke, Shannon O’Neil, Joanna Penn, Virginia Ripple, Fay Risner, Mick Rooney, L.J. Sellers, Dana Lynn Smith, Bob Spear, Richard Sutton and Toni Tesori.

Here you’ll find everything from craft advice to tax advice, from marketing tips to design walkthroughs, from self-editing how-tos to copyright boilerplate you can use in your own book, and more! Having these 67 collected articles is like having a publishing consultant, editor, designer and business adviser by your side as you set out on your own indie publishing path.

The book is set out into sections:

Think; Write; Design; Publish; Sell; Business End and Lighter Side Of The Writing Life.

It really is quite a significant resource, and only $5.99 on Amazon. Go get it here.

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Selling Fiction vs Self-Publishing

Self-publishing doesn’t carry anything like the stigma it used to. This is a good thing, of course, as it opens more opportunities for writers, and we’re all looking for opportunity. But should we all jump on board and self-publish all the writings?

There is certainly the argument that self-publishing has the potential to give the writer a far greater dividend than any other form of publishing. But this is something of a furphy. All the really successful self-publishers have either built their success on an already established traditional publishing career (like Konrath, et al) or they’re publishing lottery winners (like Hocking, et al). For ninety nine point nine per cent of the rest of us, self-publishing will garner far smaller results.

Let’s look at the alternatives.

One of the myths bandied around all the time by the self-publishing evangelists is that traditional publishers are mean and nasty, and not interested in new talent. This same nonsense is applied to publishers of short and long fiction, to publishers of books and magazines, be they print or electronic. It is true that a lot of big business trade publishers operate on something of a risk-averse model. They’re unlikely to take a chance on anything really left of centre, because they operate under a certain agenda. But there are numerous small press outfits around who are very keen on “different” stories, to set them apart and build their own legacy.

Publishers are not mean, nasty or averse to new talent. They’re just very busy and receive a lot of submissions – and a lot of what they receive is pretty poor. Writing, like any other craft, takes time, effort and commitment to master…

Read the rest of this article at the Planet EWF Blog here.

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Industry IQ seminar: Going Indie: inside self-publishing – Saturday 22 September

If you’re going to be around Brisbane this weekend and you have an interest in self-publishing, you should try to get along to this event. I’m very pleased to be presenting alongside Sally Collings and Graham Nunn, where we’ll be talking all about the ins and outs of self-publishing and chatting about our own publication journeys. Regular readers here will know that I’ve dabbled in a variety of forms of self-publishing, as well as being traditionally published. Some of my self-published work is now traditionally published, and other stuff I’m happy to keep publishing on my own. Hopefully I can give a decent overview of my experience and be useful to anyone who comes along.

As far as I can tell, we should have a good mix of fiction, poetry and non-fiction experience between us. As the blurb says:

Demystify the world of self-publishing with this seminar that examines the issues and process of self-publishing. Explore the process of making and selling books, editing and manuscript development, marketing and author platforms with these industry professionals who have taken the leap into self-publishing.

Here are all the details:

Going Indie: Inside Self-Publishing

Presented by Alan Baxter, Sally Collings, Graham Nunn

Date: Saturday September 22

Time: 11:00am – 1:00pm

Venue: Meeting Room 1.B, Ground Floor, State Library of Queensland, Cultural Centre, Stanley Place, South Brisbane

Price:

Full Price $50

Concession $45

QWC Members $30

QWC Member Concessions $27

Further details about the event and the presenters, and booking forms, can be found by clicking here.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be around a little bit before the event and sticking around for a little while afterwards, so do come and say hello.

EDIT: Venue corrected.

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In conversation with Gillian Polack

On reading women, reading about women, categories and curses.

Gillian Polack is a fine writer, a fine person and a good friend of mine. You may remember that I reviewed her novel, Life Through Cellophane, a while back. Sadly, the publisher of that book, Eneit Press, fell victim to the Red Group/Borders debacle and went under. It seemed that Gillian’s book went with it. But, a literary phoenix from the ashes of corporate foolishness, it has found new life with the Pan Macmillan ebook imprint, Momentum. Now called Ms Cellophane and with a cool new cover, the book is back.

I got to talking with Gillian about the book recently. She was particularly pleased with my original review when I said:

I must admit that I felt a bit weird reading it. It was like I was hiding out during a secret women’s business meeting, hearing about things I shouldn’t know.

On hearing this, Gillian said, “It’s a good reaction. You read lots, and this is the only book that gives you that sense. I get a lot of female readers saying to me, “This is my life, I read this and am looking into a mirror.” It makes me wonder why you haven’t encountered other books that give you the same sense. What sort of boundaries are out there and what sorts of restrictions do they put on us without us knowing?”

Alan: I think it’s largely to do with the types of books I read. It’s not that I don’t read books by women. In fact, on checking Goodreads, recently I’ve read:

Felicity Dowker’s Bread & Circuses
Jo Anderton’s Debris and Suited
Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine
Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts
Joanna Penn’s Prophecy
Lisa L Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony

That’s just this year, which is a year where I haven’t read nearly as much as I usually do. But while these are excellent books by women, all with strong female protagonists and/or supporting characters, they’re not as much books about being a woman as yours is. So I wonder if I just don’t choose to read other books more like yours.

Gillian: My book was all about the type of invisibility that many women feel so yes, it wasn’t about a strong protagonist so much as about a very particular aspect of life. Can you pinpoint some of the things that made you feel as if you were entering a foreign universe – and maybe talk about how they differ from the approach you take to your own female characters?

Alan: I have a very simple, perhaps overly so, approach to writing female characters. I basically approach all characters as neither male or female, but simply as people. Of course, I will try to get inside my character’s heads and they’re all very individual people, but gender is only ever a small part of that, never a primary consideration.

Reading Cellophane, I felt as though I was getting an insight into the day-to-day miniutiae of being a woman. You do a good job of putting the reader in Elizabeth’s mind and it almost feels, to me at least, as though we shouldn’t be there. Of course, that’s a sign of great writing – feeling like we’re inside a character rather than simply watching from outside. And, equally, my male-ness is showing, simply because the process of reading your book came as such a surprise to me.

The best thing about it is that none of it was uncomfortable in any way – it was simply fascinating.

To go back to my own writing, I deliberately don’t try to make my female characters “feminine”. I use quotes there to indicate the insufficiency of the word. I don’t know what it’s like to be feminine. I know what it’s like to be around women. I’ve been married a long time and have many great female friends. I know what it’s like to interact with women and I know how they might respond to various situations. My author’s eye is always studying people and scenarios, subconsciously filing it away for later story use. All writers have to be great observers of the world around them. But I can never observe what it’s like to be a woman. Until reading Cellophane, that is. Because that’s something which gave me an insight I couldn’t get on my own. And while I read a lot of female authors – in fact, my favourite Australian spec-fic writers are all women! – I guess I don’t read very much stuff about women. So perhaps I need to know what I could read that would help me with that.

Of course, that also leads to a small problem. I hate “chick flicks”. I have little to no interest in reading books aimed at a purely female market. But Cellophane seemed to transcend that issue, so I guess I need advice on more books like yours!

Gillian: I don’t know where there are more books precisely like mine! There must be. Cellophane can’t be sui generis. I wrote it though, because I wanted to read books like it and I wanted the books to be speculative fiction. One of my publishers suggests that I’m like Anne Tyler, someone else suggests that the female-ness of my world is a bit like Alice Hoffmann, while Sophie Masson suggested that my first novel reminded her of A.S. Byatt. They’re all women writers who often put women in the centre of the story and are capable of working quite inwardly (though don’t always), so I’d start from them, I think, and work out. Ursula le Guin does the same inwards-out approach in Always Coming Home, but she’s more concerned with place and culture and change than with domestica.

There’s a lot of literary fiction written in a character’s head, where the internal view is key to the novel. There’s not, however, much speculative fiction that both takes this approach and focuses on the mundane. Kaaron Warren’s Slights does that, of course, but in such a different way! She wrote about someone quite terrifying and had me accepting, as a reader, that this was quite normal until we realised that this person we had accepted into our headspace was someone we wouldn’t ever want to meet. I really wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.

Alan: Slights is a great example of character, but you’re right, certainly not a particular example of womankind. More an example of arsehole-kind.

I think you hit it on the head when you say that you “wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.”

Is that something you’ll be exploring more? The street-level magic of the everyday wonder rather than the “big story” wonder? Will you write about Elizabeth again?

Gillian: I won’t write about Elizabeth again, but I will definitely be exploring the everyday wonder. In fact, I have a novel out there… It’s one of those hard-to-categorise novels, like Cellophane. Publishers are both loving it and not willing to publish it. This is a problem I face regularly, for there is no general sub-category for what I do, and so it’s hard to fit into a schedule. Personally, I can’t see what’s hard to categorise about a magic-wielding feminist divorced Jewish Sydneysider who is not speaking to her father. In fact, the short story that’s set after the time of the novel was published years ago (in ASIM), for short story markets are more flexible. It was listed as recommended on an international Year’s Best, and I have a recording of actor Bob Kuhn reading it, just waiting for the right moment to appear. People ask me about Judith, and I have to say, “Still no home.”

The cursed novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming – due to appear some time ago) is about dealing with the mundane world, how to escape it and what the implications are of such an escape, but of course, the novel is cursed (and contains dead morris dancers). It was supposed to appear several years ago, but the most extraordinary life events (hurricanes, earthquakes, computer failure, near death experiences) keep getting in the way. I find it rather ironic that a novel about an ordinary person should be doomed to adventures and not be seen, but right now, the story of the The Art of Effective Dreaming’s delays would make a rather good disaster novel.

Alan: Sounds like you need just the right small press for the Judith novel. I’m sure it’ll find a home eventually. I hope it does, because it sounds very cool.

And The Art Of Effective Dreaming will eventually see the light of day, right?

Gillian: From your mouth to God’s ear (to use a Jewish expression I did not in fact grow up with!). You want to read about the dead morris dancers… Actually, The Art of Effective Dreaming also gently takes the mickey out of quest novels, so I rather suspect you might like it. I hope you get to read it soon!

Alan: As far as I’m concerned, the only good Morris Dancer is a dead one, so yes, I’d love to read it.

As Gillian once said to me in an email: “One of the messages I wanted to get out there about my writing is that it’s not bad despite not fitting categories. So many people look for categories and assume that a novel is not readable, simply because they haven’t encountered its like before… for there is a public perception that there’s a gender divide and that women read men’s books but that men don’t read women’s. I’m beginning to think that it’s being reinforced through being assumed and would love to break it down.”

So get out there and have a read of Ms Cellophane. It might change your perceptions a little bit. It’s available now from Momentum.

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