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On the length of a story

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May 22, 2015

There’s been a bit of to and fro via The Guardian recently about fantasy novels and short stories. Firstly Damien Walter wrote this pile of bollocks about how publishers need to stop encouraging big fat fantasy multi-book series. Then Natasha Pulley responded with this bullshit about how fantasy just can’t be done in short books, and especially not in short stories. I do wish people would stop trying to proscribe what the rest of us like to read and write.

You know what? A good story is exactly as long as it needs to be or it’s not a good story. Simple as that. If that means a fat book trilogy, or a ten book mega-series, or one thin novel or novella, or a short story, it doesn’t matter. A good story is good because it’s told in the right amount of space it needs. A really good story is made from great ideas, wonderfully written, using exactly the time and space required.

Sure there are plenty of rubbish, bloated books out there and loads of short stories that fall flat. But even the shite stuff has found its niche if its successful, because people are reading and enjoying it. If people are reading and enjoying something, get the fuck off your high horse trying to tell those people that they should be reading and enjoying something else.

Ellen Datlow, a living legend among short fiction editors, posted on Facebook about the second article I linked above and here’s what she had to say:

As a short story editor who has been reading and publishing sf/f/h stories for over 35 years, I’m astounding [sic] at the author’s ignorance. There are hundreds of brilliant, effective, imaginary world short stories that have been published and continue to be published. I don’t know how someone who claims to have taught a class in short fiction can claim that “That means that there is an incredibly narrow taxonomical window in which short fiction can be recognised as fantasy at all. What we recognise as fantasy is long. Sometimes really long.” Even if your definition of fantasy was valid (and it isn’t), you’re dead wrong.

I agree with Ellen 100%.

On the subject of longer series, to use my own recent books as an example, The Alex Caine Series is (so far) roughly 300,000 words spread fairly evenly over three books. Each book is not especially fat, but each one is a fast-paced dark fantasy story. All three contain details of a bigger arc that tells a bigger story. That’s what I like to read mostly – standalone books that also contribute to a larger ongoing story in series. That’s why I write them. But I also enjoy and write standalone novels, and novellas, and short stories. One day I might write a fucking great three million word epic if I think the ideas therein are good enough.

There are big series out there where each book is the same size as my entire Alex Caine trilogy. Peter F Hamilton writes single novels bigger than some big fat series! And all those things are good. We need that variety. I love to experience a glorious, dense, richly detailed series, then read an anthology of amazing, tight fantasy short stories. I like standalones that aren’t in series. I love novellas. But I only like any of those things if they’re good, and being good or bad is not predicated solely on their length. It’s predicated on being a good story, well told. Some yarns are too long or too short for my taste. I might wish they would get to the point more quickly, or delve more deeply into their world and story. But it’s not the length alone that dictates quality or validity. And I know my taste is vastly different to the tastes of many others, and their taste is equally valid. Even if they’re wrong.

You know the old adage – it ain’t the size that matters, it’s what you do with it.

So stop telling people what to read and publishers what to publish. Put all your energy into sharing the stuff that you think is good, regardless of length. Help the cream rise to the top and let the rest take care if itself.

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Ceaseless West: Weird Western Stories from BCS e-book anthology is now out

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April 26, 2015

CeaselessWest_Cover600The Ceaseless West: Weird Western Stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies e-book anthology is now out, and it includes my Ditmar Award nominated story, Not The Worst Of Sins. You can find it at WeightlessBooks.com (the indie ebook store run by Gavin Grant of Small Beer Press). It’s available for pre-order at Amazon Kindle Store, B&N, iBooks, and Kobo and will be released there on Tuesday.

The table of contents, cover, and links to it at Weightless and the other stores are here.  And it’s only $3.99.

Also, any reader who buys Ceaseless West from WeightlessBooks.com will get a free copy of Ceaseless Steam, the steampunk anthology, and a coupon for 30% off all other BCS anthologies and ebook subscriptions.

For Weird Western fans, BCS are doing a special Weird Western issue of the magazine next Thursday, BCS #172, out on Apr. 30.

Here’s the ToC of Ceaseless West:

A Feast for Dust • Gemma Files

The Angel Azrael Rode into the Town of Burnt Church on a Dead Horse • Peter Darbyshire

Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride • Saladin Ahmed

Hangman • Erin Cashier

Bandit and the Seventy Raccoon War • Don Allmon

The Good Deaths, Part II • Angela Ambroz

Between Two Treasons • Michael J. DeLuca

Splitskin • E. Catherine Tobler

The Sixth Day • Sylvia Anna Hivén

Enginesong • Nathaniel Lee

The Crooked Mile • Dan Rabarts

Walking Still • C.T. Hutt

The Heart of the Rail • Mark Teppo

The Judge’s Right Hand • J.S. Bangs

Not the Worst of Sins • Alan Baxter

Songdogs • Ian McHugh

Haxan • Kenneth Mark Hoover

Pale • Kathryn Allen

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Graced by Amanda Pillar – Guest Post

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February 27, 2015

A big thank you to the Warrior Scribe, Alan Baxter, for posting this blog entry on my debut novel, Graced! [Aw, shucks! You’re welcome. – Alan]

Graced by Amanda Pillar

Graced by Amanda Pillar

Graced is an urban fantasy story that follows the journey of four diverse characters; it features vampires, weres, humans and a race called the Graced.

But, rather than another synopsis, I thought I’d share some of the background research that helped me develop the Graced universe!

  • It could take only 10,000 years for evidence of a society of our technological level to disappear and become nothing more than archaeological ruins
  • Blue eyes do not have blue pigmentation to make them blue
  • Speciation is occurring all the time in nature; there are animals even now in our world that are evolving new adaptations (the Australian yellow-bellied three-toed skink is changing from laying eggs to having live young)
  • Gun powder was originally developed in China and used for fireworks
  • The general ranking of the English peerage was King/Queen, Duke/Duchess,  Marquis/Marchioness, Earl/Countess, Viscount/Viscountess, Baron/Baroness
  • The colour of mourning varies from culture to culture in today’s world (red, white and black among other colours are worn)
  • Marriage was often once a political alliance, rather than an exclamation of love
  • Eye colour inheritance isn’t the simple four step process we were taught in school eg a brown (B) eyed parent, and a blue (b) eyed parent equals BB, Bb, Bb, bb. It actually does not.
  • Aside from dire wolves having a dramatic name, it was the largest canis species although it has been extinct for at least 10,000 years. Grey wolf males on average weigh up to 45 kgs.

So while the above points may have had a hand in the development of the Graced world, not all of them are apparent in the book. But that’s the beauty of world-building. All of these things helped shape Dante, Elle, Clay and Anton’s world.

*****

Amanda_small-1Amanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith.

Amanda has had numerous short stories published and has co-edited the fiction anthologies Voices (2008), Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes (2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar (2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012). Her first solo anthology, Bloodstones (2012), was published by Ticonderoga Publications. Amanda is currently working on the sequel, Bloodlines, due for publication in 2015.

Amanda’s first novel, Graced, was published by Momentum in 2015.

In her day job, she works as an archaeologist.

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US Amazon search still being a dick

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January 6, 2015

So Amazon US are still being weird about showing the Alex Caine books in searches. All the other stores are fine, just the biggest one being a dick. We have no idea why and my publisher is trying to fix it (and it’s not only my books, so there’s that at least.) Meanwhile, here are the direct Amazon.com links for all three, and BOUND is still currently FREE:

BOUND: Alex Caine #1
http://www.amazon.com/Bound-Alex-Caine-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IR1C480/

OBSIDIAN: Alex Caine #2
http://www.amazon.com/Obsidian-Alex-Caine-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00JIDE4TS/

ABDUCTION: Alex Caine #3
http://www.amazon.com/Abduction-Alex-Caine-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00K4LUHNA/

Please feel free to spread this post far and wide. Thanks!

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The year that was and the year to come.

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December 31, 2014

I posted this on my Facebook page and then decided to copy it here too. Mainly it’s for my own reference – a reminder of successes to buoy me up in those times of doubt and rejection. Because those doubt and rejection times are the norm, while successes are infrequent beacons that flare now and then. That’s normal and with any luck the successes will continue to occur and only get bigger and better. Meanwhile, it’s important to celebrate not only those successes you’ve had, but also the work you’ve put in. So here’s my writing year in review:

My writing and publishing stats are pretty good for this year. In 2014 I had three novels published (The Alex Caine Series – Bound, Obsidian and Abduction), one novelette (The Darkness in Clara, SQ Mag 14), and six short stories. Four new short stories are sold and due for publication during 2015, so I’ve already got a jump on the year to come!

I have five short stories currently out on submission, two of which are shortlisted, and I’ve got a novella out on submission with my agent.

For 2015 I have one novel “finished” that I will redraft when I hear back from a beta reader and then send that to my agent. I have another novel started that I will finish in the first half of the coming year. And I’ll certainly write and submit some more short stories. I also have plans for another novel that’ll get started at some point and hopefully finished in first draft before the end of the year. I intend to write at least one new novel every year along with as many shorts/novelettes/novellas as I have time and inspiration for.

Goals for 2015 include seeing Obsidian and Abduction in print in Australia, all three Alex Caine novels in print globally and at least six published short stories. I’d also love to see the latest novel, after a final polish, sold in 2015. Even published by year’s end if I’m lucky. The same goes for the novella currently with my agent.

So I’m staying busy and will continue to work my butt off.

Thanks to everyone who’s bought and read my work in 2014. I plan to do even better in 2015. Happy new year to you all, and may you exceed all your goals and achieve your wildest dreams.

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Kiama Library Q&A on Tuesday 18th November

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November 13, 2014

The ongoing Bound train continues to roll and next week I’ve got a hometown appearance. I’ll be at Kiama Library talking about writing, the Alex Caine Series and answering questions and all that stuff. Here are the relevant details:

6pm Tuesday 18th November

Bookings essential – call (02) 4233 1133

7 Railway Parade,
Kiama NSW 2533

Email: library@kiama.nsw.gov.au

Copies of Bound will be available for purchase and signing, or if you already have a copy, bring it along if you’d like it signed.

So if you’re a local like me, or near enough to get to the lovely harbour town of Kiama, do come along. Might I suggest you arrive early and have some fantastic fish and chips for dinner down at the harbour, before walking around the library for 6pm. You know, I might even do it that way myself. Look forward to seeing you there.

Click the image below for a bigger version:

Caine-flyer-small

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Not the Worst of Sins podcast at Tales to Terrify

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September 27, 2014

My Ditmar Award-nominated story, Not the Worst of Sins, from Beneath Ceaseless Skies Magazine, is up at one of my favourite podcasts, Tales To Terrify. I’m so pleased to have a story there.

Lawrence Santoro, the original host of Tales To Terrify, read the story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and wrote to me asking if he could have it narrated for his podcast. Of course, I said yes!

It’s so very sad that Larry died so unexpectedly. It makes this appearance of my story a bittersweet thing. But Stephen Kilpatrick has done a great narration for it, which makes me happy. It starts at 57.30, after the Lights Out documentary piece. Go listen! And subscribe to Tales to Terrify while you’re there. It really is one of the best fiction podcasts on the web.

Here it is: http://talestoterrify.com/tales-to-terrify-141-lights-out-baxter/

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Conflux in less than 2 weeks, 3rd to 6th October, includes Canberra BOUND launch

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September 22, 2014

Conflux, the annual Canberra SFF convention, is happening again in less than two weeks. It’s over the weekend of Friday 3rd to Monday 6th October. It’s always a great con and I haven’t missed one in years. I’ll only be able to make the Saturday and Sunday this year, sadly, but it’s going to be great, and it includes the official Canberra/ACT launch of Bound, once again MCd by the wonderful Margo Lanagan. You can come to the launch even if you’re not a member of Conflux or attending anything else over the weekend, so if you’re in Canberra on Saturday, October 4th at 5.30pm, please come along!

Here’s my schedule:

PLOTTING THE GAME PANEL
2pm Saturday: Our panel discusses good plotting for good gaming! Forest Room 3.  Panellists: Alan Baxter, Matthew Farrer, Aidan Doyle, and Rik Lagarto.

BOOK LAUNCH: BOUND (ALEX CAINE #1) BY ALAN BAXTER
5.30pm Saturday: Conflux Registration area. MCd by Margo Lanagan. If you already have Bound, feel free to bring it along to be signed. You can come to the launch even if you’re not a member of Conflux or attending anything else, so if you’re in Canberra on Saturday, October 4th, please come along!

PUBLICITY AND MARKETING PANEL
3.30pm Sunday: Promotion has become increasingly important in today’s publishing industry. Authors in a variety of genres face unique challenges in promoting product especially with the digital landscape of today. Our panel reviews different approaches: working with publicists vs. doing it yourself and methods of promotion (conferences, book launches, book clubs, social media, awards, blogs, events, and other avenues). Forest Room 2. Panellists: Alan Baxter, Phill Berrie (Moderator), Kat Clay and Ingrid Jonach.

CURRENT TRENDS IN BOOK BUSINESS PANEL.
5.30pm Sunday:
This century has seen new ways of “doing” book business, from the major publishing house to small and indie press, from print to ebooks. Small press and independent titles are attracting both award and review attention. Panellists have experience with a range of publishing strategies and share their insights. Forest Room 2.  Panellists:  Alan Baxter, Jack Dann, Alisa Krasnostein and Aimee Lindorff.

I’ll be shooting out in between panels to visit a few bookshops and do some ninja signings, but otherwise, of course, you’ll find me in the bar.

Hope to see you there! All the details about attending are here.

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Why do there have to be dragons? – Guest post from Donna Maree Hanson

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September 18, 2014

Canberra writer, Donna Maree Hanson, has a new book out. It’s called Shatterwing (which is a sweet title, if you ask me) and is the first in her Dragon Wine series. As you can probably tell, it’s fantasy and has dragons in it. It’s actually a dark fantasy, and here I have Donna talking about just why there are dragons in it. Take it away, Donna.

IMG_0916I’ve recently had the first book in my series, Dragon Wine, published. The first book is Shatterwing (Sept 14) and the second book Skywatcher (Oct 14) out with Momentum books. As you can tell from the series name, there are dragons in the story and it’s a dark, epic fantasy set on a secondary world called Margra.

I’ve not been particularly fond of dragons in the past. I’ve not read a lot of fiction with dragons. So I ask myself why does there have to be dragons in the Dragon Wine series.

I go back to the beginning. I was working on my small vineyard, checking the grapes, spraying them with sulphur (as you do) and slowly the opening scenes came about. The scene where there are grapes and dung and the odour of sulphur and dragons riding the thermals overhead. Salinda was tending the vines as I was, but in her case it was a prison and the wine had magical properties and the vines were growing in dragon dung, an excellent fertiliser.

Dragons were naturally a part of the world of Margra that I didn’t think twice about it. However, just last night I was talking about the dragons and I really couldn’t answer the question: ‘why dragons?’ ? I didn’t put the dragons in there on purpose, they were just there. I throw up my hands. You get it don’t you?

I know some readers love them and others hate them. I can’t win there. To me they are just part of the landscape, the world and the situation that I didn’t give them a second thought.

This probably gives you a hint about the world building. I didn’t sit down and plan it all out. It evolved with the writing process and with time. That’s what I love about this series, the rich history, the post-apocalyptic trauma to the landscape, the people and even the heavens. The dragons came there when the world split and answering the mystery of why, where and how will be something to be explored during the course of the series.

That is the fun part of writing for me. Getting in there and exploring the world, imagining new histories and backstories and puzzling out the future.

Also, the dragons are physically large and threatening and have a power of their own. I imagine that they think of us humans as transient things, a sort of food, a mild annoyance and not very interesting. I believe they have a very strong connection to the planet, but who knows.

Lastly, who doesn’t like big monsters??? Come on.

dragon_wine_1Dragon Wine Book 1 : Shatterwing is available from all major ebook retailers or direct from the publisher.

Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.

Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.

The most precious of these resources is dragon wine a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.

There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.

More info here: http://momentumbooks.com.au/books/shatterwing-dragon-wine-1/

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Book Expo Australia this weekend in Sydney

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August 29, 2014

This weekend, all weekend, is Book Expo Australia in Sydney. Click on the link there for all the time and location details and a full (very full!) program. All kinds of bookish stuff going on all weekend with loads of cool authors, publishers, booksellers and more.

I’ll be there all day Sunday, on a panel and doing a reading and signing. Get yourselves along to this utterly book-focussed event and come and say hi. Bring books to be signed or buy them on the day. Hope to see you there.

20140829-152136-55296628.jpg

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Welcome

The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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