Writing

The best work is always unofficially collaborative

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July 9, 2014

I was reading stuff online today, procrastinating because sleep-deprived, when I came across this great post by Peter M Ball on the value of his weekly Write Club. Basically, he gets together with Angela Slatter once a week and they help each other get the writing done and get it done well.

It got me thinking. My most recent short story is all my own work supposedly. But it was critiqued by three of my best writing pals. It has significant additional scenes in the middle from one pal’s suggestions, a completely reworked end from another pal’s suggestion, much juggling of motivations from the third pal’s concerns and greatly polished final words from the input of all three. All of those things I’ve just credited separately were actually raised by all three because they’re bloody good advisors. It’s the solutions I used that I’m crediting really, all of them tempered with my own ideas. The best critiquers don’t tell you how to fix something – they just tell you what doesn’t work and maybe why (for them). It’s your job to decide whether to take that on board and it’s your job to fix it.

Let’s tie this back to Bound, as I’m harping on endlessly about that at the moment because of course I am. That book was turned from an okay manuscript into a great one by my mate, Paul Haines. It was subsequently thoroughly beaten senseless by Angela Slatter and Joanne Anderton. Without the help of those people it would not be published. No way. It wasn’t good enough. All the potential was there, of course, but those people said what didn’t work and I fixed it. They weren’t nice about it. Haines in particular has an acerbic crit voice that’ll take the skin right off your flesh. Fuck, I miss him for so many reasons, and that’s only one. But that’s what a writer needs. Not people who will say, “You’re brilliant! That story is great!” because it almost certainly isn’t. It could be, but it’s not yet.

You need that critical honesty from someone who wants to see you be the best you can. And you can do the same for them.

I get asked more and more often: “What advice do you have for aspiring writers?” My standard answer is always my best advice:

Write. Write as much as you can, always strive to get better and don’t give up. When not writing, read.

That’s still my best advice. You can have that for nothing. But on top of that, here’s part two:

Find a few like-minded friends and be honest with each other. If you can find people better than you, that’s great. (I was lucky cos I did!) But very little of any real quality happens without help.

With that kind of help, the stuff you produce will always be better than it might have been if you did it without help. To paraphrase one of my favourite bands, All writers need a little help from their friends.

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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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2014 Ditmar Award ballot released – featuring me!

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April 28, 2014

I got a wonderful surprise on Saturday when a few messages started coming in saying something along the lines of, “Congratulations on your Ditmar nomination!” I hadn’t realised the Award shortlist had been released, but it only took a moment to see social media alive with the news (at least, spec fic related social media in Australia.) It turns out that my story, Not the Worst of Sins, published in issue 133 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies magazine, has been noninated in the Best Short Story category. Thanks so much to everyone who voted for that, it’s a real honour. The Ditmars are an Australian national award decided by popular vote. Anyone active in the SF scene and fandom can nominate works, then anyone who was at the previous year’s NatCon (National SF Convention) or has a full or supporting membership for this year’s NatCon can vote for the winners.

This year, the NatCon is Continuum X in Melbourne in June. The awards ceremony will be held there. If you went to Conflux in Canberra last year, or you’re going to Continuum this year, you can vote in the Ditmars. I really recommend that you do vote, as the more people who get involved, the more the winners will reflect the opinion of the wider community. If you’re not going to the cons, but you want to vote, you can buy a supporting membership for Continuum X for just $35, which gives you several benefits including voting rights. And you can vote online in a matter of minutes. Couldn’t be easier! Voting is open now until one minute before midnight AEST (ie. 11.59pm, GMT+10), Wednesday, 28th of May, 2014.

I’ll post the full list of nominated works in all categories below, but here are a few relevant links:

You can vote for your choice of winners (as per conditions above) online here.

You can learn all about Continuum X and get your membership here.

You can read my nominated story free online here at BCS. (If you like it, I’d love to get your vote.)

So please do get involved. My own inclusion notwithstanding, I honestly think this is one of the strongest Ditmar Award ballots for years, in every category. You could do worse than getting hold of everything on this list (and anything on the Aurealis Awards list from last month) and you’d be set up with some fantastic reading of Aussie spec fic.The AAs and now the Ditmars are showing very clearly that Australian spec fic is stronger than ever.

So, get your membership and get voting (or if you went to Conflux last year, just get voting!) and if you’re going to NatCon this year in June, I’ll see you there!

Here’s the full list of nominations for the 2014 Ditmar Awards:

Best Novel

* Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft Publishing)
* Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, Robert Hood (Wildside Press)
* The Beckoning, Paul Collins (Damnation Books)
* Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet Press)
* The Only Game in the Galaxy (The Maximus Black Files 3), Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)

Best Novella or Novelette

* “Prickle Moon”, Juliet Marillier, in Prickle Moon (Ticonderoga Publications)
* “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, Kim Wilkins, in The Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications)
* “By Bone-Light”, Juliet Marillier, in Prickle Moon (Ticonderoga Publications)
* “The Home for Broken Dolls”, Kirstyn McDermott, in Caution: Contains Small Parts (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “What Amanda Wants”, Kirstyn McDermott, in Caution: Contains Small Parts (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Story

* “Mah Song”, Joanne Anderton, in The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories (FableCroft Publishing)
* “Air, Water and the Grove”, Kaaron Warren, in The Lowest Heaven (Jurassic London)
* “Seven Days in Paris”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Asymmetry (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “Scarp”, Cat Sparks, in The Bride Price (Ticonderoga Publications)
* “Not the Worst of Sins”, Alan Baxter, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies 133 (Firkin Press)
* “Cold White Daughter”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in One Small Step (FableCroft Publishing)

Best Collected Work

* The Back of the Back of Beyond, Edwina Harvey, edited by Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
* Asymmetry, Thoraiya Dyer, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
* Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
* The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, Joanne Anderton, edited by Tehani Wesseley (FableCroft Publishing)
* The Bride Price, Cat Sparks, edited by Russell B. Farr (Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Artwork

* Cover art, Eleanor Clarke, for The Back of the Back of Beyond by Edwina Harvey (Peggy Bright Books)
* Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, for Eclipse Online (Nightshade Books)
* Cover art, Shauna O’Meara, for Next edited by Simon Petrie and Rob Porteous (CSFG Publishing)
* Cover art, Cat Sparks, for The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publications)
* Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
* Cover art, Pia Ravenari, for Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier (Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Fan Writer

* Tsana Dolichva, for body of work, including reviews and interviews in Tsana’s Reads and Reviews
* Sean Wright, for body of work, including reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut
* Grant Watson, for body of work, including reviews in The Angriest
* Foz Meadows, for body of work, including reviews in Shattersnipe: Malcontent & Rainbows
* Alexandra Pierce, for body of work, including reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex
* Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work, including essays and reviews at www.tansyrr.com

Best Fan Artist

* Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including “Defender of the Faith”, “The Suck Fairy”, “Doctor Who vampire” and “The Last Cyberman” in Dark Matter
* Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including “Illustration Friday”
* Dick Jenssen, for body of work, including cover art for Interstellar Ramjet Scoop and SF Commentary

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

* Dark Matter Zine, Nalini Haynes
* SF Commentary, Bruce Gillespie
* The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
* Galactic Chat Podcast, Sean Wright, Alex Pierce, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, and Mark Webb
* The Coode Street Podcast, Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan
* Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Best New Talent

* Michelle Goldsmith
* Zena Shapter
* Faith Mudge
* Jo Spurrier
* Stacey Larner

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

* Reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex, Alexandra Pierce
* “Things Invisible: Human and Ab-Human in Two of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories”, Leigh Blackmore, in Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1 edited by Sam Gafford (Ulthar Press)
* Galactic Suburbia Episode 87: Saga Spoilerific Book Club, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
* The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely
* “A Puppet’s Parody of Joy: Dolls, Puppets and Mannikins as Diabolical Other”, Leigh Blackmore, in Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Master of Modern Horror edited by Gary William Crawford (Scarecrow Press)
* “That was then, this is now: how my perceptions have changed”, George Ivanoff, in Doctor Who and Race edited by Lindy Orthia (Intellect Books)

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Ten Rules of Writing

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April 23, 2014

People are always posting rules of writing and it annoys me. I have opinions about many things, and this is definitely one of them. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know I think writing rules are generally a load of bollocks. They often contain good advice, but “rules” can go and get fucked. So, [engage irony mode] [irony mode engaged] [remove hypocrisy filter] [hypocrisy filter removed] here are my ten rules for writing. They’re the only rules you’ll ever need. See if you can spot the pattern.

1. WRITE

No matter what, if you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. Wanting to write, intending to write or really loving the idea of writing is not writing.

2. WRITE

Doesn’t matter when, where, how or how often, just do it. Once a day, once a week, once on month, whatever. Sit your arse down somewhere and write. The more often you do it, the better you will be.

3. WRITE

You won’t find time to write. No one has time to write. You make time to write. Can’t make time? Then you don’t want it badly enough.

4. WRITE

Seeing a pattern yet? Write anything. A description of the room you’re in. How you can’t think of anything to write about. It’s like weight lifting – you gotta do a lot of reps.

5. WRITE

You can’t write very well before you’ve practiced. You’re probably rubbish at first, your writing sucks. Who cares? Keep writing and get better – it’s how we all do it, and continue to do it.

6. WRITE

Emulate writers you love, but let your voice come out. You won’t have a strong voice at first, but you will if you keep writing. Take advice and critique, go to workshops, join a writers’ group (IRL or online) and always strive to improve your craft.

7. WRITE

Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write. If you sit around waiting for inspiration, you’ll be sitting around a lot. If you have an hour, write for an hour. Waiting is a luxury you can’t afford.

8. WRITE

It will be shit, but who cares? Just write. You can make it good later, but not if you haven’t written anything. Allow yourself to write crap, finish something, then polish it into a gem. Repeat. Polishing turds into gems is the alchemy of the writerly way.

9. WRITE

Be determined to write. If you don’t really want it, it’s not going to happen. And that’s okay. But if you do really want it, you need a skin like a rhino and a bloody-minded determination that makes lesser beings drown in your wake. Do. Not. Stop. Submit your polished gems, brace for rejection, repeat. Keep going.

10. READ

C-c-c-combo breaker! Read everything. Read voraciously: fiction, non-fiction, in your genre and out, the newspaper, signs while you’re driving. Reading is the fuel of your rhino-skinned determination. It’s the backbone that supports your writerly muscles. If you don’t read, you can’t write.

So there you have it – that’s my ten rules. Obviously, it’s really only two rules: read loads and write loads. Don’t stop. Take advice and learn. Keep getting better, don’t give up. Of course, all kinds of other things will work for you and you’ll develop methods and habits. But those things won’t work for everyone and other people’s stuff might not work for you. When it comes down to it, there are only two actual rules of writing: Read and Write. There – you are a writer. Now, go forth and scatter words before you.

For your convenience, below are these ten rules in a handy graphic. Click for a larger version. Feel free to share.

ten rules of writing 219x300 Ten Rules of Writing

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2013 Aurealis Award winners announced

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April 8, 2014

Saturday was a big day. I drove down to Canberra, took part in the Conflux Writer’s Day minicon, where I did a highspeed “Social Media for Authors” presentation, then went for a quick change of clothes in order to attend the Aurealis Awards ceremony. Nicole Murphy, who organised everything that day, did a truly amazing job. The writers day and awards ceremony were both superb. We caroused and drank and laughed, and fantastic Australian fiction scored very well-deserved awards.

Here are all the fantastic nominees and winners. If you want a sampler of excellent recent Aussie spec fic, here’s your huckleberry:

(The winners are separated at the top of each list of nominees.)

Best Science Fiction Novel

  • Lexicon, Max Barry (Hachette)


  • Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)
  • A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)
  • True Path, Graham Storrs (Momentum)
  • Rupetta, Nike Sulway (Tartarus)

Best Science Fiction Short Story

  • “Air, Water and the Grove”, Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven)


  • “The Last Tiger”, Joanne Anderton (Daily Science Fiction 5/17/13)
  • “Mah Song”, Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories)
  • “Seven Days in Paris”, Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry)
  • “Version 4.3.0.1”, Lucy Stone (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57)

Best Fantasy Novel

  • A Crucible of Souls, Mitchell Hogan (self-published)


  • Lexicon, Max Barry (Hachette Australia)
  • These Broken Stars, Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
  • Newt’s Emerald, Garth Nix (Jill Grinberg Literary Management)
  • Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft)

Best Fantasy Short Story

  • The Last Stormdancer, Jay Kristoff (Thomas Dunne)


  • “The Touch of the Taniwha”, Tracie McBride (Fish)
  • “Cold, Cold War”, Ian McHugh (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/13/13)
  • “Short Circuit”, Kirstie Olley (Oomph: A Little Super Goes a Long Way)
  • “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts)

Best Horror Novel

  • Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near (Random House Australia)


  • The Marching Dead, Lee Battersby (Angry Robot)
  • The First Bird, Greig Beck (Momentum)
  • Path of Night, Dirk Flinthart (FableCroft)

Best Horror Short Story

  • “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts)


  • “Fencelines”, Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories)
  • “The Sleepover”, Terry Dowling (Exotic Gothic 5)
  • “The Home for Broken Dolls”, Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts)
  • “The Human Moth”, Kaaron Warren (The Grimscribe’s Puppets)

Best Young Adult Novel (Tie)

  • These Broken Stars, Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
  • Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near (Random House Australia)


  • The Big Dry, Tony Davies (Harper Collins)
  • Hunting, Andrea Host (self-published)
  • The Sky So Heavy, Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

Young Adult Short Story

  • “By Bone-Light”, Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon)


  • “Mah Song”, Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories)
  • “Morning Star”, D.K. Mok (One Small Step)
  • “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts)

Best Collection

  • The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, Joanne Anderton (FableCroft)


  • Asymmetry, Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet)
  • Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet)
  • The Bride Price, Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga)
  • The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga)

Best Anthology (Tie)

  • The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012, Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene, eds. (Ticonderoga)
  • One Small Step: An Anthology of Discoveries, Tehani Wessely, ed. (FableCroft)


  • Dreaming of Djinn, Liz Grzyb, ed. (Ticonderoga)
  • The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Of The Year: Volume Seven, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade)
  • Focus 2012: Highlights of Australian Short Fiction, Tehani Wessely, ed. (FableCroft)

Best Children’s Fiction

  • The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, Kirsty Murray (Allen & Unwin)


  • Kingdom of the Lost, Book 2: Cloud Road, Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)
  • Refuge, Jackie French (Harper Collins)
  • Song for a Scarlet Runner, Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)
  • Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
  • Ice Breaker: The Hidden 1, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel (Tie)

  • Burger Force, Jackie Ryan (self-published)
  • The Deep Vol. 2: The Vanishing Island, Tom Taylor & James Brouwer (Gestalt)


  • Savage Bitch, Steve Carter & Antoinette Rydyr (Scar Studios)
  • Mr Unpronounceable Adventures, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow)
  • Peaceful Tomorrows Volume Two, Shane W Smith (Zetabella)

The annual Aurealis Awards ceremony took place at the Great Hall, University House, Australian National University, Canberra. All the details of the awards can be found at the Aurealis Awards website.

Congratulations to all the winners and nominees!

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Earthsea revisited and visited anew

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April 1, 2014

I mentioned a while back that I was embarking on a reread of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels. It was, in fact, only a part reread. There are six Earthsea books, that Le Guin likes to refer to as either the Earthsea Cycle, or the two Earthsea trilogies. Until now I’d only read the first trilogy. (There are also two short stories in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, but I’m not including those. I’ve got that collection and will get around to it at some point.)

Earthsea 300x174 Earthsea revisited and visited anewI came across the first trilogy – A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore – when I was 10 or 11 years old. I devoured them and absolutely adored them. They bent my tiny mind and I read them over and over again. I had no idea there were more books in the series (back then, there weren’t). The next trilogy – Tehanu, Tales of Earthsea and The Other Wind – came out much later. The first trilogy was published in 1968, 1971 and 1972. The second in 1990, 2001 and 2001, respectively. Having loved the first trilogy so much, it’s amazing it took me this long to get around to the second, but there you go. So I recently reread the first three and then went on to the “new” three.

Even though I’d read them so many times, it’s been a long time since I last read the original trilogy. I was desperately hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be a disappointment. Within a few pages, my fears were quashed and I was back in Earthsea and remembering just why I loved it so much. The writing is beautiful, so poetic and lyrical, evoking such a fantastic sense of place and character. Yet it’s also tight and spare, no flowering dissertations on every aspect of the story. These are 200 or 300 page novels that could easily be 500 page novels if Le Guin was prone to the “big fat fantasy” style so common today. But she’s not and it’s one of the things I like so much about these books. They’re perfectly sized stories, perfectly written. And the tales themselves are just as enchanting now I’m in my 40s as they were before I hit my teens. I can’t wait until my son is old enough to read them.

So then I was set to embark on the second trilogy for the first time. Would these disappoint? Could I be as charmed by a revisit to those classic novels? Well, yes, I could. In all honestly, I think I enjoyed the first of the new three, Tehanu, more than the others. But the set of six as a whole does a wonderful job of telling a huge story. Especially as Tales From Earthsea is a collection of short stories and novellas, all designed to fill in history and backstory of the bigger arc, yet all wonderful stories in their own right.

One of the most interesting things for me was an afterword by Le Guin in the last book, where she talks about the time spent writing these six novels and how she thinks it’s finished now, but never say never. Perhaps the most interesting part of that for me was that she didn’t really recognise the theme of the whole series until she was writing the last book. She realised what she was fundamentally writing about when she’d finished, not when she started. She began telling stories she was compelled to tell and let the underlying theme of her work worry about itself. I think that’s a great lesson for writers – don’t stress about what you’re trying to do or trying to say, as then you might focus too much on the message and lose the magic. Just tell your stories, and trust that whatever thematic form is squirming in your subconscious will find its way out over time.

Either way, I loved my return to Earthsea and it still stands as one of my favourite series of all time. Six wonderful books that I’m sure I’ll visit again and again.

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Bound is done

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February 21, 2014

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

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February 17, 2014

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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Conflux Writer’s Day, featuring all sorts of writers including me

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January 28, 2014

I’m going to be one of many presenters at this awesome day for writers organised by the Conflux convention committee. Looks like it’s going to be well worth your time if you’re a writer and able to get to Canberra on the day. The best part? It’s the same day as the Aurealis Awards presentation gala night, so you can come to the writer’s day for professional development and general inspiration, and then glam up for the awards night.

The Writer’s Day presentations are from 9am-5pm on Saturday April 5 2014. Registrations are open now at http://conflux.org.au/conflux-writers-day-2/registration/. It will take place at University House, Australian National University, Canberra.

The theme of the day is ‘The Writers Journey’, which will be covered by four sub-themes – ‘Writing Skills’, ‘Writing Processes’, ‘Submission and Publication’ and ‘Building a Career’.

Four plenary speakers will be addressing these themes. These speakers are:

Joanne Anderton
Kaaron Warren
Ian McHugh
Keri Arthur

Clicking on those names will take you to the Conflux page describing their talk.

There will also be a bunch of concurrent presentations bringing great thoughts and ideas to writers at all stages of their career. That’s where I come in. I’ll be talking about “Building an online presence: social media for authors”. Here’s the abstract, describing what I’ll be talking about:

A presentation on how authors can best build an online presence to promote themselves and their work, utilising the most powerful social media tools, with a central website hub to streamline their activity. Too often, an emphasis on social media distracts from writing time, or an author is overwhelmed by all the things they think they *should* be doing online, instead of writing. This presentation will break down the basics, identify the most powerful online tools and how to use them effectively with very little effort or time required on the part of the author. We will also debunk the myth of the “author platform”.

We will look at personal websites, integrated social media feeds and what an author really *needs* to do. There will be a decent amount of time at the end of the presentation for Q&A.

You can go here for a full breakdown of the day’s presentations. The concurrent presentations are factored in around the plenary speakers, so you can go to all four keynote speeches and then take your pick of all the other stuff. There are some great people with loads of knowledge presenting at this thing, so if you’re able, I highly recommend you try to get along. If you do, come and say hi. Hope to see you there.

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My year in review

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December 20, 2013

I guess this post is more for my own benefit than the interest of readers, but what the fuck? They say blogging is dead anyway. Actually, it’s not, by a long way, it’s just changed. But still. I’d like to think this post might also serve as some kind of inspiration. After all, it’s been a hell of a good year for me, writing-wise, and I’ve been working my arse off for a long time to get to this point. Maybe others can draw strength from that. I started to take being a professional writer seriously in 1997, after all. That’s 16 years ago now. Shit, eh? Where does the time go? We’re all getting older, life’s a bitch and all that. But 2013 was a fucking good year for me, so maybe it can inspire others who are trudging this long road to keep going. One more step. Then another. Art hard and don’t give up, motherhumpers.

After all, a successful person is a simply a failure who refused to godsdamn quit.

And you know, the longer I work at this gig, the more true that becomes. I’ve talked before about how success is basically hard work, luck and determination. It’s really the determination that’s the key. If you’re determined to keep going and keep working hard, you’ll get better. If you get better and stay determined, you’ll get more luck. More opportunities will come along if you’re busy working hard. You just have to notice and take them.

So, professionally, what’s happened this year for me? In short fiction, I’ve had the following publications:

“Not the Worst of Sins” – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #133 (October 31st, 2013)

“Roll the Bones” – Crowded Magazine issue #2 (August 2013)

“The Beat Of A Pale Wing” – A Killer Among Demons anthology (Dark Prints Press, June 2013)

“The Fathomed Wreck To See” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 9 (May 2013)

“On A Crooked Leg Lightly” – Dreaming Of Djinn anthology (Ticonderoga Publications, May 2013)

“Quantum Echoes” – Next anthology (CFSG Publishing, April 2013)

“A Time For Redemption” – Urban Occult anthology (Anachron Press, March 2013)

“Tiny Lives” – originally published in Daily Science Fiction (25th December 2012) this was reprinted in the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2012 (Ticonderoga Publications, August 2013)

That’s seven original stories and a reprint published already, including two pro sales (5c/word or more). I’ve still got three more publications due out this year, all in December:

“All the Wealth in the World” – Lakeside Circus 1, due any day now.

“It’s Always the Children Who Suffer” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10, Winner of the 2013 AHWA Short Story Competition (due end of December, 2013)

“Exposure Compensation” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10 (due end of December, 2013)

So that’s 10 original stories published and one Year’s Best reprint. Which is pretty awesome. And you’ll notice one of those originals is the winner of the 2013 AHWA Short Story Competition, another great high point for the year. I’ve also sold a couple of stories already that will be out next year, so it’s good to get a start on that.

Also published this year was Dark Rite, the short horror novel I co-wrote with David Wood. That’s some good, pulpy, Hammer-esque horror fun if you’re into that sort of thing, and barely more than a novella, so a quick, easy read.

All the anthologies, magazines, novels and so on I’ve talked about here, and all the others I’m involved with, can be tracked down via this page: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/

I’d be very happy with all that as a year’s work on its own, but of course, I’m saving the best for last. A couple of months ago I signed a three book deal with HarperVoyager Australia, and they’re publishing my trilogy The Alex Caine Series between July and December next year. That’s not only the high point of the year, it’s the high point of my career to date. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

And on top of all that, my son was born at the end of October.

Oh yes, 2013 is going down as one HELL of a year. It’s hard work all the way, but it’s paying off. I’m getting better all the time, I’m staying determined, I’m working hard and I’m starting to see real results.

You can too. Go for it!

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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. Misanthrope. Learn more about me and my work by clicking About Alan just below the header.

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