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Archive for December, 2010

Meet Dirk Flinthart …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 28, 2010

Way back when the VISION writing group was in its infancy, Dirk Flinthart walked into a session and life has never been the same since.  I think of Dirk as the Greenman of pagan mythology. Larger than life and full of life! His stories have been a finalist and received an Honourable Mention in the Aurealis Awards, and has been working on a libretto ‘Bedlam’ which the operetta company hopes to premiere in Brisbane in 2011 (subject to grant funding).

Dirk has a copy of Worlds Next Door to give-away. Watchout for the question at the end of the post.

Q: While studying Entomology at UNI, I believe you led a rather dissolute life which led to the publication of ‘How to be a Man’ co-wrote with John Birmingham? Have you considered doing any more forays into contemporary humorous self/help books?

I’d argue it wasn’t dissolute so much as anarchic, bohemian and poverty-stricken. Birmo took all the worst and ugliest parts for ‘He Died With A Felafel In His Hand’, simply by asking all of us for share-house stories. That the book did so damned well is a testament to his ability as a writer – and to the resonant, shared nature of those stories. Everybody who share-housed through the eighties and nineties had lived through the dark heart of that book, which only goes to justify my earlier statement regarding my putative dissolution.

Look it was the tail-end of Whitlam’s free tertiary education era. We were the children of early baby boomers. We were smart, and we were fairly savvy because of our exposure to modern media culture… but we had nothing. No money. No venerable ancestry. No old-school ties. All we had was our brains, our attitude, and most importantly, each other.

Felafel’s a good read. Funny as hell. The movie not so much. But the movie manages to touch one thing the book doesn’t really dwell on strongly enough: the trust. The sad, brave, desperate, hilarious trust that kept us all going, all living together, bickering with each other, struggling, and eventually, escaping into some kind of adult life.

I don’t think it’s really possible to put that kind of thing into a book. Not if you really plan to do it justice. John made a brave attempt, particularly with the sequel (The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, in which yours truly plays a larger-than-cameo role as a somewhat exaggerated caricature of himself) but the truth is a lost country, a past that binds together some of the cleverest and most influential people in Australia today.

The book I wrote with Birmo was How To Be A Man. It was, yes, an informative and funny sort of guide to getting one’s manly shit together in the late nineties and early noughties. It did surprisingly well.

Birmo’s gone on to bigger and better things. I’ve gone on to… oddities, actually. But both of us now have kids, and being parents plays a big role in our lives. I haven’t told him yet, but I’m giving serious thought to How To Be A Dad. What do you reckon?

Q: A while ago you put a humorous upper primary novel to the ROR group for feedback. How is it going and are you planning to write any more books for children?

Lots of good feedback from various publishers and editors, but no serious bites. You win some, you lose some. I’m not giving up on the novel, but I’m moving on to other projects, as one must. I’d love to revisit it, however. Perhaps if I can put the Flinthart name out there on the back of a few novels, someone will pick up “The Farnsdale Incident” and its truly odious alien invaders.

As for writing for kids yeah, why not? I’ve got three, and they love the things I write for them. Including The Farnsdale Incident, by the way. Kids are fun.

Q: You have edited ASIM and Canterbury 2100, a themed anthology. What did you learn from this process?


Yeah. Okay. Editing is not writing. But it is closely akin. And if you have to have a certain sensitivity when allowing your work to be edited, then you need fifty times that to edit another’s work.

I’m fortunate in some ways. I read quickly, with a very high rate of comprehension, and I have a knack for working within the style of other writers. There were a few stories in Canterbury that I altered with permission and co-operation from the writers, naturally and I’d defy you to pick which ones purely by reading the text.

Editing ASIM was just plain fun. Mostly I got to pick good stories and run with them. However, with A Day In Her Lives, I had the distinct pleasure of helping a new writer take a very interesting story and lop about three thousand words off it, making it sharper and stronger in the process. That was a real privilege. I wouldn’t mind doing more editing work, actually. The collaborative side of it is truly rewarding.

Canterbury was a major challenge. It was an homage to the Canterbury Tales: a collection of oral stories by travellers on a stranded train in the year 2109, on their way to Canterbury in an England trying to recover from a century of climate change, ecodisaster, economic catastrophe, plague a collapse of the worldwide civilisation we have today.

I prepared a simple outline of a future history for the writers, and asked them to riff on it any way they wanted. The proviso was that we were not telling the future history, though: we were telling the STORIES of that future history. So they had to be tales that travellers might share, to pass the time, and to bond with one another in the face of a night of storm and fear.

I was really pleased with the collection in the end, but it nearly did my head in. So much of basic SF technique had to be thrown out! Historical exposition, for example: why would characters who’d lived through history bother explaining it to each other? The truth is that they wouldn’t so I had to teach myself to see that kind of thing, as an editor, and then remove it.

It had to be that way. The goal was to create a collection of stories that challenged readers to wonder; to imagine what kind of century led up to the events of the train journey. Answering those questions in the stories would have been counterproductive which is completely contrary to the usual SF storytelling technique.

On top of that, I had to come up with a framing narrative to hook the stories together. When Chaucer and Boccaccio did it, they were only creating a frame for their own stories, and to be honest, their narratives are pretty weak. The stories are great, but the framing tales are just fluff.

The problem for me was that I was putting together a collection of disparate stories from twenty different authors. If I’d written a piece of ‘fluff’ to frame them, it would have been a disaster. It would have seemed forced, and false.

In the end, I created a narrator character, and gave him a reason for being on the train, and for observing the storytellers carefully. I also gave him his own adventure, which weaves in between the others, and allowed me to write a kind of ‘afterword’ without actually breaking register.

It was a monumental challenge, actually and I count myself lucky that all the writers were so very wonderfully helpful and supportive. I hope that means I did something right!

Q: Your novella ‘Angel Rising’ was published by Twelfth Planet Press. This was an unusual premise for a story and you wrote it as a novella. What led you to write ‘Angel Rising’?

I fell into the New Ceres stuff by helping out as an assistant editor. ‘New Ceres’ is a setting dreamed up by several writers and editors, including but not limited to Gillian Polack, Alisa Krasnostein, and Tansy Rayner-Roberts. It’s an interesting, challenging kind of setting – a planet some seven hundred years in the future that deliberate restricts itself to 18th century technology and manners – and as I edited, ideas started to roll.

I figured a planet which eschewed visible, conventional technology might be prepared to accept biologically altered humans who were, in a way, victims of that technology. Equally, it was obvious that such a planet would need a very effective spy system to defend itself from infiltrators.

In this fashion, George Gordon was born. He’s appeared in three tales, now, as Proctor General of the planet. His job is to monitor offworlder incursions, and to eliminate them where they represent a threat to planetary security. It isn’t a nice job, but Gordon wasn’t genetically engineered to be a very nice man.

He’s a fun character to write, because he’s smart, cynical, incredibly dangerous, but flawed as hell. He isn’t exactly human, and he will never be a simple, comfortable human being, but he desperately wants to believe in humankind, and the possibility of some kind of redemption.

‘Angel Rising’ pits him against one of his fellow Proctors, on a group of islands where the inhabitants try to mimic 18th-century Japanese culture. A refugee from the ongoing space war between two major forces in the human expansion falls to New Ceres, bringing with her information which can change the whole face of the war – and possibly even more. Gordon gets to fall in love, fight lots of bad guys, discuss Zen and ethics, and maybe save his world. Oh – and he also gets to take sides in a pitched battle between ninjas and Zen Buddhist nuns. What else could you ask for?

Q: You put your Libretto to the ROR group for feedback last time we met and it has since been turned into an operetta called ‘Bedlam’. This opera is set in bedlam and two of the main characters are Lord Byron and Mab, Queen of the Fey. Tell us a little about how this project came together and what your inspiration was.

I’m not certain she’s Mab. She’s certainly a Faerie Queen; if not the very last, then one of them. And she’s been trapped in Bedlam Asylum for three generations, due to the machinations of the doctors that run the place the Monro family.

Inspiration is a quirky thing. I never know where it’s going to come from. I do know this: the more restrictions you place on me, the more likely I am to come up with something quickly. I don’t know why that works, but it does.

In this case, an old friend rang and asked if I’d write something for her. Intrigued, I asked what she was after. She told me the setting she wanted, and the kind of thing she was after, and while we were still on the phone, the outline started to come through.

I want to say that it was all obvious. Bedlam is a legendary place of madness, and of course, there’s a long history of association between madness and the Faery folk. To be ‘elf-shot’, for example, is an old term for being mad. And then there’s the term ‘fey’, which is often used interchangeably with faery or fairy or elf but also means eccentric, mad, ‘doomed’, ‘fated’, and so forth. I want to say it was an easy leap from there to trap an elf-queen in Bedlam, and to put the famous Lord Byron into the role of rescuer. And why not? Club-footed Byron (obviously marked by the faery at birth!) is as fine a role-model for the elf-shot, mad, romantic hero as ever you could want.

But the truth is, I suppose, it wasn’t obvious. Except to me. Inspiration is about what’s in your head, and how it interacts with what you see and hear. So it happens I knew enough about Bedlam and Byron and the fey/mad thing to see a shape, and to cut at it until it emerged.

I’m delighted with the direction it’s taken, in the end. The emerging story is complex, with a range of powerful themes and archetypal characters, working towards a gratifyingly tragic and heroic conclusion. I get to play with Elizabethan language for the characters of the Bedlam Court of the Faerie Queen, and I get to play with that lovely, formal, poetic language of Byron for the rest. If I can get away with this, I’ll be over the moon!

Q: What was it like collaborating? There were singers, dancers, a director and set designers, all interpreting your vision and bringing their own vision to the final production. It must have been a real change of pace from writing away in your study.

Collaboration is fascinating. It didn’t get me out of my study, though!

This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with stage or screen folks. Dragonwood Studios worked one of my stories into a short film a few years back, and I’ve written stuff for radio and for stage shows and so forth. Plus there was the book with John Birmingham, and the highly collaborative effort on Canterbury 2100.

I enjoy the challenge of collaboration. Whenever someone else picks up a piece of my work, or vision, they invariably bring something new and unexpected to it. The stories that came out for Canterbury gave me pictures and images of the Dark Century (ahead of us!) that I had never even considered, and I was absolutely delighted.

With Bedlam, I sketched out a storyline for my opera-producer friend, and talked her through the major themes over the phone. I explained the nature of the central conflict, and the role of the three major players Byron, the Queen, and Thomas Monro, the Iron Doctor and how they would have to develop in order to allow for a meaningful arc of conflict, resolution, and development.

Next thing I knew, I had an email from her: all stuff I’d put in front of her, neatly bundled into ten scenes. And could I please create dialogue to bring those scenes to life?

Right away, it was a challenge. Because, of course, I’m not just writing dialogue. This is a libretto. The composer (David Lazar) chooses the lines he wants and creates the song lyrics therefrom. Naturally, the first proviso is that the dialogue must be the primary means of storytelling. And almost as important, those lines of dialogue have to resonate. They have to have rhythm. They have to be singable: no clumsy, expository tongue-twisters.

After a quick exchange with David, we agreed that I’d write something like a play and that it would probably run a lot longer than necessary. Poetic language and imagery is difficult to do well, and even more so if you’re working with archaic versions of English, such as are called for by this work. Rather than trying to boil it all down and refine it to the the sharpest, clearest moiety, I decided to offer David a range of imagery and poetry. I wanted him to be free to choose the elements which worked best for him in terms of rhythm, vision, and musicality.

Once I had the opening scene in decent shape, it went to David, and he very quickly put some music behind it. When I saw the demonstration video that Outcast put together, I was completely taken aback. I mean… sure, yeah, those are my words, but… that music! The dancers! The staging! The lights, the costumes! Holy crap!

That’s way past collaboration, there. I couldn’t even dream of taking credit for the gorgeous stuff those people have done. The story is a framework, and a good one. I’m proud of that. The words, though the poesy is only one element of the operatic effect, and quite a small one, I personally feel.

Seriously: have you seen that video? Those people are amazing!

Hopefully, ‘Bedlam’ will premiere in Brisbane late in 2011. Assuming we manage it, I am absolutely, totally going to be there for the opening night. I will even wear a tuxedo for the occasion!

Q: Your Red Priest stories have been very popular and I know you put a Red Priest novel to ROR. With three small children and a wife who is a GP in the wilds of northern Tasmania, you don’t get much time to write. Have you had a chance to polish the Red Priest book?

No, dammit. Not to my satisfaction, anyhow. I’ve had a difficult stretch for writing over the last eighteen months. Kind of burned myself out over the fiendish Christmas period, and took too long to get my act back in gear. But I am very much looking forward to the year coming. All three kids will be at school five days a week, and all I’ve added to my personal schedule (which includes studying Iaido, and teaching ju-jitsu, as well as maintaining the property, helping out at the school, feeding the family and so forth) is a Masters degree. That shouldn’t be too much, should it?

So goals for 2011 include finishing and polishing the opera; finishing a bundle of short stories requested by various people; polishing the Red Priest novel actually, novels, thank you RORians very much for that; and at least one other moderately new project. I also want to manage my 2nd dan in ju-jitsu, and take another grading in Iaido, if I can. Oh, and the Masters degree, of course. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2006 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. Did you find ROR helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways? (I felt we needed a question about ROR. Feel free to change the focus of it, if you like).

ROR is a bit of a lifesaver. Living out in the boonies, it’s hard to feel a connection to the community of writers and editors. Sure, I get to one or two conventions a year, but my daily life revolves around handling a fifty-acre property, holding three kids in check and running a household, teaching and practicing martial arts, and being a part of a busy rural community. It’s easy to lose the necessary focus on writing and storytelling.

A good writers group is a thing beyond value. Getting solid critical feedback on your work is indescribably important, and nearly impossible to acquire from the people around you. The ROR group has given me considerable confidence, and helped me maintain my determination to write, create, and publish. The insightful reading and sharp comments from dedicated professionals in the field is something I honestly feel it’s difficult to repay from my own moderate talents… which is one reason why I make the ROR retreat menus as special as I can!

One vital aspect of ROR is the very professional nature of the participants. All of you have more experience than I do at the sharp end of publishing, and your advice with regards to dealing with publishers and the various meta-aspects of writing and publishing have been like the very Word of the Lord unto me. You folk remind me that I’m not just writing stories because I like doing it: I’m writing them to be published, and there’s a vast and complex dance of behaviours which go with that particular territory.

I’m not good at those behaviours, I know. I’m storyteller, because I’ve always been one. But a storyteller is not the same thing as an author, and the ROR folk are my go-to source whenever I’m trying to make sure I’m on the right track, there.

Q: What are you currently working on?

The opera libretto. Five different short stories. Four novels. Various potential webcomics. (Know any comic artists who feel like collaborating?) A lot of silly animation, here at home with the boys, because it’s fun. (All you need is a digital camera, a computer, and some software – most of which you can get free on the Web. Animation is HUGE fun!)

I’d like to be more specific about the writing, but I find I prefer to keep things close until I’ve written them. Talking too much about them before I’m done is a sure way to kill my interest. I hate that.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals (what are you currently working on) and what are your dream goals?

I’d like to make enough money to live on, thanks. But… writing, publishing, and seeing people enjoy my works is where it’s at.

I don’t really have dream goals. Things come as they will. Up until recently, I never even considered writing for opera. Now I’m having the time of my life watching my words and ideas become song, music, and dance. How good is that?

And the giveaway question:

Among the range of things I do, cooking rates highly. (So the ROR folk tell me, anyhow.) I enjoy cooking, and I like both learning and creating new dishes. Today, for example, I discovered that fresh, ripe raspberries dropped into gin will rapidly perfuse both colour and flavour through the spirit, turning it a delicate shade of pink, and imparting an utterly delicious raspberry tang. I therefore give you

Mr Flinthart’s Raspberry Gin and Tonic

Take 300gm of fresh, ripe raspberries. Place them in a sealed container with 500ml of reasonable gin. Refrigerate for half an hour. Now use the gin to make gin and tonic exactly as normal, but without the twist of lemon. Serve over ice, with a couple of extra raspberries thrown in at the last.

So what’s your favourite recipe? Whether it be newly created by yourself, or stolen from the oldest, hoariest volume of Escoffier, so long as it’s a personal favourite, I’m happy.

The person submitting the most interesting recipe will win a signed copy of Worlds Next Door, from FableCroft Publishing and I will do my damnedest to create the dish at the next ROR retreat!

Note – give-away questions will stay open until Tuesday of next week, when I’ll ask Dirk to select a winner.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Collaborating, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

A Boxing Day Ramble

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 25, 2010

I left a basket on my kitchen table and when I went to pick it up, I found the cast asleep in it.

I don’t have a post planned for today. (I was hoping something brilliant would occur to me at the last moment but nothing did – too much Christmas Cheer. LOL). Instead I sat down and skimmed through Scientific Blogging looking for articles to trigger a post, specifically on creativity and the human brain. But an hour later all I had were a heap of story ideas, which just confirms that input is a major factor in creativity.

Remember that spinning girl that was supposed to reveal whether you were left brain or right brain dominant. It’s been debunked, see here.

Apparently wealth makes you happy for a bit and then it doesn’t make any difference. So people in wealthy countries are not getting happier. See here.

Intelligence tests are supposed to be about your ability to solve puzzles without using prior knowledge, but …

‘Subjects were tested for the types of problems found on IQ tests, then trained to improve their working memory, after which they were retested.  Meanwhile a control group took and retook the tests at the same times but without the training in between.  The trained group showed dramatic improvement, while the control group did not.  Moreover, the amount of improvement depended on the amount of training — the more the subjects trained, the more they improved.  No upper limit  to this trend was found during the course of the study.  And strong improvement was found regardless of the initial test performance, although the weaker performers on the first test benefitted more from the training than the stronger first-testers.  Overall, the study suggests, IQ can improve significantly with appropriate training, for anyone.  Therefore, IQ is not an adequate indicator of innate ability.’ See here for article.

Everyone says they prize creativity but teachers and big business prefer their students and employees to tow the line. Truly creative people cause waves.

‘teachers were asked if they valued creativity and enjoyed working with creative students, and they overwhelmingly answered “yes”. Next, they were asked to look at their own students and rate them on a variety of traits, ranging from highly creative traits, such as being determined, independent, individualistic, impulsive, and likely to take risks, to traits that are associated with low levels of creativity, such as peaceable, reliable, tolerant, steady, and practical. After they rated their students on these traits, they were asked to rate them from their least favorite to most favorite students.  Interestingly, there was a significant negative correlation between the degree of creativity of the student and his favorable rating by the teachers.’ See full article here.

Looking at the relationship between Visions and Consciousness. And Lucid Dreaming and Consciousness.

An article on how Vikings navigated. And this one about Time Machines, which turned out to be about calculating when tides rise and fall.

Looking at how phrases stay in use long after their original meaning is lost. eg.

‘As used in the phrase ‘at the hazard of his ears’, the term ‘hazard’ means ‘risk of loss’. The swearing of an oath ‘at the hazard of one’s ears’ has its origins in medieval law.  Forms of words often continue long after they have lost their literal meaning’

So take the time to feed your creative crucible by looking outward at the world in all its wonderful absurdity.

Posted in Creativity | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Angry Robot opens to subsmissions

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 21, 2010

Angry Robot will be opening their doors to unsolicited manuscripts in the month of March.

Here’s the link.

And this is what they are looking for:

We’re publishing novels, either standalone or as part of greater series. We’re not looking to publish your novellas, short stories or non-fiction at this time.

All our books are “genre” fiction in one way or another — specifically fantasy, science fiction, horror, and that new catch-all urban or modern fantasy. Those are quite wide-ranging in themselves; we’re looking for all types of sub-genre, so for example, hard SF, space opera, cyberpunk, military SF, alternate future history, future crime, time travel, and more. We have no problem if your book mashes together two or more of these genres; in fact, we practically insist upon it.

Our books will be published in all English-language territories — notably the UK, US and Australia — so we’ll be buying rights to cover all those. If you are only offering rights in one territory, we will not be able to deal with you. We will be able to offer e-book and audio versions as standard too, plus limited edition and multiple physical formats where appropriate. We are not contracting any work-for-hire titles; we offer advances and royalties.

Beyond all of this, what we’re really looking for in your writing is this:
• A “voice”, that comes from…
• Confident writing
• Pacy writing
• Characters that live, have real relationships and emotions, even in extreme situations
• A sense of vision, a rounded universe that lives and breathes
• Clever construction, good plotting, a couple of surprises even for us jaded old read-it-alls
• Heightened experience – an intensity, extremity or just a way of treating plot or situation in a way we’ve not come across before. “Goes up to 11″, if you know what that means.

Do all those, and it will be almost irrelevant that your story is one or other sub-set of SF, fantasy or horror!

Posted in Editors, Nourish the Writer, Pitching, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Winner of Tansy’s book

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 21, 2010

So many lovely, thoughtful answers!  I was completely spoiled for choice.  In the end I went with Christine and her evocative descriptions of the pros and cons of being a fly or an elephant.  But thanks to everyone who played along!

Christine, please email me at tansyrr (at) with your postal details and your preference as to which book you would like to receive.

Posted in Book Giveaway, Genre Writing | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Meet Maxine McArthur

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 21, 2010

I met Maxine McArthur at World Con in 1999. In those heady days Random House was developing a genre line which published Tansy, Maxine and myself. (Random House discontinued the line, orphaning all three of us). Maxine’s first book Time Future won the second George Turner Prize. It was one of those rare experiences (for me at that point) where I met the author before I read their book. And as I read it, I could hear Maxine’s ‘voice’ clear as day. Up until that point I didn’t have a clear idea what the term ‘authorial voice’ meant.

Q: You won the second George Turner Prize with your first book, which was launched at World Con. This was your introduction to SF fandom and the publishing industry and it must have been like jumping into the deep end of the pool. Not long after this Random House discontinued their genre line. If you could go back and give that Maxine McArthur some advice, based on what you know now, what would you tell her?

Let’s see…well, first, definitely don’t give up that day job. Or should I qualify this—don’t give up the day job unless you are willing to put in a great deal of hard work to consolidate publication, which is only the first step towards a career. Successful writers don’t just write books, they spend a lot of time and energy networking, publicising themselves and their work, coordinating marketing initiatives, and often branching out into other fields such as games or scriptwriting. I didn’t realise this when I had my first book published and didn’t do the hard yards.

Second, make sure to at least consider a sequel when you write a novel—I tied myself into knots with book two (Time Past), because I didn’t do this. Third, never write about time travel again! (whoops, broke that one already) And fourth and most important, write what you want to write—don’t commit yourself to a project because it is the ‘in’ thing, or someone wants you to do it, or because you think it will look great on your CV.

Q: You left Australia right out of high school and went to study in Japan, where you met your husband and had two boys. After 16 years, in 1996 you returned to Australia and wrote Time Future, which is set on a space station and (among other things) it told how Commander Halley, the overworked engineer struggled to keep the peace between the different alien races. How much did those years in Japan influence your ability to write about living with a different culture?

I think it’s very difficult to pinpoint influences in our own writing. All I can say is that Time Future would have been a very different book if I hadn’t lived in Japan. I must add that I had a much easier time there than Halley does on the station!

When writing Less Than Human, of course, I consciously used memories and observations from my life in Japan, which I hope “gives an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative”.

Q: The sequel to Time Future, Time Past was published in 2002 by Warner. Was it hard to take the second book in a series to a different publisher? Do you still have more stories about Commander Halley bubbling around in the back of your mind?

It was a little disappointing, as I’m one of those people who like continuity, but I was very happy with Warner as it turned out. They were wonderful with the book, especially the editing.

Oh yes, I have another novel set in the Time Future universe half finished, hopefully to be completed next year. Part of it is written from another character’s point of view, unlike the previous novels which are kind of a Halley immersion experience. I hope the different POV is as interesting for the reader as it was for me.

Q: In 2002 you were awarded an Asialink Literacy Residency. Please tell us a little about this residency.  What process did you go through to win it, how long did it last and was it wonderful to escape from your family and be just a writer, rather than all the other things you must be as a University employee and mother?

For three months I was almost the only resident at a very comfortable and modern ‘Arts Village’ in Yamaguchi prefecture, which is a fairly rural part of Japan. The sojourn made me realise how little I really knew Japan, even after living there for 16 years. It was the kind of place where fairy tales and mythology seems perfectly natural—like the countryside in Miyazaki’s “Totoro”.  Most of the scenery and the spirit of place in the YA fantasy you mention below came from the notes I took in Yamaguchi. A wonderful coincidence was that Gillian Rubenstein was staying in a nearby village, writing her stupendous fantasy series, and we had some great times together.

I actually found it rather lonely apart from Gillian. I don’t think I would do well as a hermit-type writer. There seems to be a limit as to how many hours per day (probably no more than three or four) I can effectively spend writing—after that, my brain shuts down. This perhaps comes from having to fit writing into every little crevice of time you can find, normally. (You will relate to this, Rowena!) Families and day jobs tend to occupy large chunks of time, but fortunately novels are flexible enough to fit into the leftover space.

Q: The book you were working on while in Japan was a YA fantasy, set in medieval Japan. This is one I read at a ROR and I’ve been looking out for it ever since. What stage are you at with this book and can you tell us a little about it?

Certainly. Here’s part of the ‘blurb’:

The spirits of the dead will possess all places and times. The line between the worlds will disappear. We will be doomed to live with the dead until they consume us.

In order to prevent the fox’s prophecy coming true, the young shaman, Hatsu, must stop a powerful angry ghost seeking revenge on the living. Her only help is the young warrior’s assistant, Sada, whose troop burned Hatsu’s village and whose strange new religion threatens her own. The only way Hatsu can return from the Long Bridge in the land of the dead is for Sada to abandon his honour; the only way Hatsu can finally help the angry ghost and save them all, is to accept Sada’s beliefs.

This book is proving to be a bit of a problem child, as a couple of publishers gave me some feedback which suggests it needs rewriting to make it more ‘accessible’. Which I’m working on, except that my current project is occupying most of my mind at present. That’s the trouble with working full time and trying to write as well—you have to prioritise ruthlessly.

Q: Another manuscript that we read at ROR was the first draft of the book that was published as Less than Human, which went on to win the Aurealis SF Award in 2004. This is a near future book that, among other things, plays with ASIMOV’s first law of robotics. Are you tempted to write any more near future books which explore the interface between technology and humanity?

Not in the next year or so! It is a difficult space to write in, also, as ‘near future’ so rapidly becomes ‘yesterday’, and technological change so quickly makes our speculations into stale news. I am interested in the biological sciences at the moment, and the implications of research in some of those fields on our near-future lives. But I haven’t found a novel in there yet.

Q: Before I was published, I thought that once I had a book accepted my next book would automatically be accepted and I’ve be on the road to a thriving writing career. I discovered, as we all do, that the publishing industry is a harsh mistress. After the winning the George Turner Prize and an Aurealis Award, you’ve spent some years between major contracts. How have you sustained your creativity and drive during these years?

I wouldn’t say that I did sustain my creativity and drive, actually. Having friends to talk to about what I was doing was the single most important thing that kept me writing. I just kept pootling along, and paying the mortgage, but the writing was awfully slow (and sometimes just awful).

I think now that I was missing enthusiasm. For the past year I have been working on a project that has pulled me along like a tin can tied to the back of a sled dog team, and I have realised that the ‘fire’ that drove me during the writing of Time Future had been missing for quite a while.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that I’m not a ‘professional’ writer, because unless it’s fun, I can’t get the words right. The process is much easier and guilt-free now I’ve accepted that.

Which leads to my advice below…

Q: Leading on from that, what advice would you give today’s aspiring writer?

Write what you love, what inspires you, what makes you want to keep going. If you’re like me, that is the only way you will keep going. If you’re not like me and you’ve got the stuff to be a dedicated, hardworking professional, you’ll enjoy the slog a lot more by writing what you love.

Q: At the most recent ROR I had the pleasure of reading your current manuscript, could you bring us up to date with where you are on this project?

Having received much encouraging and pertinent feedback at ROR, I have gone back and rewritten parts of the manuscript, and have just arrived at the exciting point where I need to write a completely new last third. This is my Christmas holiday homework.

I do love the way an unfinished manuscript is full of potential, you can see so much in it. Of course, when it’s done it never quite approaches those amazing rainbow colours it had in your mind, but the anticipation is fun while it lasts.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2001 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. You also belong to the Canberra SF Guild.  Did you find belonging to ROR and the Canberra SF Guild have helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways?

As I mentioned above, being able to receive feedback from a group of such talented and like-minded writers at ROR is a great honour and always constructive. How do I count the ways? Aside from the crucial friendship and peer support, I think the most important aspect of critiquing novels is getting a new perspective. The ROR members consistently make me look at what I’ve written from new angles. For example, at the recent ROR, Richard Harland correctly pointed out that the chapters as written contained an uneasy mix of different levels of genre (serious history vs light-hearted adventure). Thinking about this, I decided to make the concept of ‘levels of reality’ a central theme in the rewritten work—that is, use the disjuncture to my advantage. (Thank you, Richard!)

Although I have been disgracefully inactive lately, the CSFG gave me so many wonderful friends and was a pivotal influence in my participation in specfic fandom and writing, mainly because we had such fun! I am in the middle of a short story to submit to the CSFG’s next anthology, which I would love to be part of. It is a dynamic and supportive group, and I’m sure we will continue to contribute to Aussie specfic in big ways.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals  and what are your dream goals?

Realistic goal—get my blogsite up and running, and my website revamped before the end of the holidays!

Dream goal—write multiple books in a new series…actually, that’s not quite right, as I will write the books anyway. How about: Sell multiple books in a new series. J

Thank you, Rowena, for asking such good questions!

To win a copy of ‘Baggage’ an anthology about what people bought to Australia with them, enter the give-away.

Give-away Question:  “If you had to travel back in time, which year and where would you choose? And why?”

The competition will stay open until next Tuesday, when Maxine will choose the answer that most appeals to her.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Research, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

What will you do when you get the call?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 18, 2010

They say writers serve a 10 year apprenticeship to learn the craft. I know I’d written 10 books before I sold my first one. In Tansy’s interview she said the one thing she would tell herself if she could go back to her first book sale is – don’t sign anything until you have an agent.

(This post is a starting off point. You need to do your own research).

Maybe you’re lucky enough to get an offer after submitting to a competition or a manuscript development program. Should you approach an agent now? Well, yes, if you have a concrete offer from a publisher.

Editors like to ring up authors when they make the offer because they get a buzz when normally sane people start babbling and doing cartwheels. If an editor rings you with an offer of $X for your book/trilogy, you don’t need to agree to anything right away. In fact, you can say ‘That’s great. I’ll just call my agent.’

An agent will be happy to take you on, if you already have a concrete offer from a publisher. Once you have that offer you need to approach an agent, but which agent? Have you been doing your homework? Do you know the top agents for your genre in Australia? Would you prefer an agent based in the US or the UK? What are the pros and cons?

A good Australian agent will have intimate knowledge of the Australian publishing scene. They will have contacts in literary agencies in the US and the UK, who can try to on-sell your work over there. (Your Australian publisher will probably want limited world rights so that they have the option of on-selling for 12 months). Now it begins to get complicated and you see why it is worthwhile having an agent who knows their stuff.

If you do get an Australian agent who has contacts in agencies in the US and the UK and one of those over seas agents sells some of your work, they will take a percentage, then your Aussie agent will take a percentage and you will get what is left.

If you opt for a US or UK agent they will not have the same intimate knowledge of the Australian publishing scene, but they should have  in-depth knowledge of the UK/US scene. There is lots of consider when ‘shopping’ for an agent.

Australian Literary Agents Association.

Association of Authors Representatives US.

Association of Authors and Agents UK.

Note – the money flows to the author. If an agent asks you for money to read your manuscript, or do photocopies (no one uses photocopies any more) or make international calls (what about email?), then they are feeding off aspiring writers.  If an agent says your book is good but it needs work, and then recommends a manuscript appraiser, be very wary. The agent should take an agreed upon percentage of the advance that the publisher pays you, that is all.

Then there is the larger question of your writing career. So you’ve sold one book and maybe the publishers want a three book deal because they want to grow you as an author. So suddenly you have to produce two more books, while editing the first one and deliver them all to deadlines. Here is  Zoe Archer’s post about what happened when her first book was accepted.

If you’re anything like me you have a backlog of books you’ve written, but they could be from different series and the publisher wants three books in series X. Maybe you are lucky and you’ve written three books in series X, but they’ll be at different levels of readiness because you’ve been growing as an author, while you’ve been working on them.

You need to work out how long it will take you to either tidy up the three books already written, or write two new books. Be realistic in your estimates. Publishers like you to deliver on time, but they do understand that life happens. If it looks like you are not going to meet your deadline, don’t panic and stew about it. Plan ahead, contact your agent to let them know and they will go to your publisher to negotiate a new deadline.

So, have you done your home work on agents? Do you have a career plan?


Posted in Agents, Editing and Revision, Editors, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

Meet Tansy Rayner Roberts …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 14, 2010

I first met the sweet, but ever so sharp, Tansy at World Con in 1999. She’d just had her first book come out and we shared the same publisher. Since then we’ve shared many a ROR and convention. Tansy’s new series Creature Court is an eclectic mix of Ancient Rome and the 1920s. I loved Power and Majesty (book one) in each of its incarnations as it came through ROR and I’m biting my nails, waiting on book two!

Watch out for the give-away question at the end.

Q: You came to writing success very early, winning the Inaugural George Turner SF Prize when you were nineteen (you were twenty by the time the book was published) with Splashdance Silver. If you were able to go back to the nineteen year old Tansy, knowing what you know now and give her advice, what would it be?

Get an agent BEFORE signing the contract!  Also, don’t expect that just because you earned a living at this for one year, you’re going to be able to every year, and the ease with which you write the second book is going to be totally misleading about the effort required for all future books… and um, by the way, your publishing house will be bought out within a year and your editor will leave and you’ll lose all your support, and…

Wow, that’s a really depressing topic to start out on!  I think something like “This is only the beginning, you will write better books, and this will (eventually) be your career,” is a bit more positive.

Q: You had success early, then you were ‘orphaned’ by your publisher and spent quite a few years out in the cold before being picked up by Harper Collins with your new Creature Court series. Did you ever feel like giving up? How did you sustain your creative drive?

It feels like a really long time (and indeed was a really long time) but I never really stopped.  I wrote short stories by the bucketful, and worked on my craft that way.  I spent several way fun years playing with small press as part of the ASIM collective.  I wrote several manuscripts, and workshopped them with ROR – some were discarded, some went on to publication.  I tried different genres and even tried on the hats of a few writerly pseudonyms.  I only had one year without a writing credit, the year 2000 – and that was a real kick in the pants.  After that I was always working on something, or getting something out there.

The first novel of the Creature Court has actually been six years in the making – I was about a year and a half into writing it when I had to put it away in the hopes of getting my PhD thesis submitted before my first daughter was born (it wasn’t).  It took a lot longer to get back to it than I thought and then it only took one more revision before the novel sold.  Lots of long periods of waiting – for publishers to decide, and then between the signing of the contract and the actual appearance of the book.

I never thought about giving up!  Stop writing, are you mad?

Q: You have two delightful little girls now. Do you find having children has given you a new insight as a writer? And are you ever tempted to write for children?

It’s made me less precious as a writer, for a start.  I remember when I used to need a WHOLE DAY to myself to write, and it always had to be at my desktop computer in the same part of the house… crazy, crazy luxuries.  I trained myself to write at the drop of a hat, with a baby clamped to my leg, or in a cafe, or in the ad breaks.

I think being a mother has taught me a lot as a person, and that necessarily changes my writing.  I don’t know that I’m a deeper or more insightful writer now, but I think I feel things more, and I suspect that has an effect.

I would love to write for children.  If I could just get a few months to MYSELF I would run off that superhero middle grade series for girls that I have in my head.

Q: This leads on from the last question. I notice you’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of YA. Is this an area you are thinking of writing in, or do you read it for the love of it?

I long to be a YA author.  I have written a few manuscripts, but nothing that has landed a bite yet.  I also love reading YA for fun – my attention span has gone to hell over the last couple of years and I have found that YA is just so succinct as far as plot and character goes that it’s very enticing.  I’ve been working this year to lure myself away from YA just a bit – reading some actual grown up books – but I do love it, and I really believe that some of the most exciting speculative fiction of the last few years has happened in this genre.

Q: You’ve edited ASIM, Shiny and AustrAlien Absurdities. Do you find editing has helped you develop as a writer? Do you have any advice for short story writers?

I enjoy editing although have been doing my best to give it up because it uses a lot of the same energies as my writing, but doesn’t give (me, personally) nearly as many of the same rewards.  It was one distraction too many, once parenthood hit me over the head.  Editing has done a lot for me as a writer – increased my critical awareness quite strongly.  And it does tempt me back from time to time, but it would have to be a pretty incredible project to make me break my current stance on the matter.

As far as short story writers go – I think the most important thing to tell them is that it’s quite easy to get a half-decent short story published these days.  There are so many markets, and so many editors.  There’s nothing wrong with going for the cheap and easy sale when you’re just starting out.  But ultimately if you want people to take you seriously, you need to look at what you’re sending out there, and whether these are stories good enough to build a reputation on.  As someone who served out her “apprenticeship” in public venues, I look quite jealously at newbie authors who come out swinging, earning critical achievements and award nominations and so on with their first few published works.

This applies to novels too: a debut is a terrible thing to waste.

Q: It must have been a thrill to see your novella, Siren Beat, published by Twelfth Planet Press, win the WSFA Small Press Award. What led you to write this novella?

It was Marianne who did it!  She and Lynne Jamneck had a glorious plan to edit a charity anthology of Australian urban fantasy, to raise funds for Crohns Disease.  Their submission guidelines were so inspiring that I wrote a pitch straight away – because it was an anthology I decided to avoid vampires and werewolves on the basis that most people would choose them, and I decided to set it in Hobart because I figured again I was the only one who would do that!

Once I started thinking of how to turn Hobart into an urban fantasy city, it came so easily – the docks, Salamanca, seamonsters, and Nancy Napoleon standing damaged on the edge of the city, protecting it from invaders.  I was so excited that I took a month off what I was supposed to be doing and just wrote the thing.  They used it as part of their pitch document for publishers and it got within an inch of being accepted before the Global Financial Crisis hit, and suddenly an anthology wasn’t an appealing risk for a Big Name publisher.  So sad…

But Alisa loved the story when I sent it to her next and it was published as the first of the Twelfth Planet Doubles, along with a gorgeous story by Robert Shearman.  Since then – well, I have said repeatedly that Siren Beat is the story that keeps giving back!  It’s earned me more critical acclaim than any of my previous writings put together, and apart from the various nominations and the lovely win from the WSFA, it’s also now earned me two writing grants to give Nancy Napoleon a novel of her own.

Q: You have a PHD in Classics and spent a month in Rome. I believe the topic of your thesis was Imperial Roman Women. Did this area of study help you develop the world for Creature Court?

Technically the series was first sparked off in my head when a mouse invaded the study in our old house!  But that’s a far more mundane story of origin…  my studies of Ancient Rome absolutely infused these books.  I used my memories of tramping around the city to give a feeling of weight and reality to my imaginary city of Aufleur – which led to all kinds of fun and games when we got to the mapmaking part, I can tell you!  Turns out the Rome in my head is nothing like the one on the page…

It was actually my Honours thesis that contributed most to these books – I was studying women’s role in the Roman religion, and one of my great fascinations is the Fasti, a poem which details the many traditional festivals of the old city.  I started thinking what it would be like to actually live in a city where the economy revolved around rites and festivals – taking the old ‘bread and circuses’ concept and pushing it further.  That was the essential core of Aufleur – sure, there was this whole little plot about dark, twisted magical shape-changing superheroes and the sky trying to kill them, but MOSTLY it’s a book about ancient religious calendars.

Heh okay, that’s a total lie.  The festivals are purely background.  But they were an important inspiration for the society, and it made me think very much about the role of festivals and traditions in our society.  I say this as someone who just totally WON at Christmas, and is very smug at having all her presents bought and wrapped… apart from the 8 or so that haven’t been delivered yet!

Q: Book one, Power and Majesty is out now. When are the other two books due? Did you have the books written or planned when you accepted the contract? If not, was it a struggle with two small children to meet your deadlines?

Book Two, Shattered City, is scheduled for April 2011 and Book Three, Reign of Beasts, is scheduled for October 2011.  I had always planned for there to be more of this story, though when I sold Power and Majesty I only had three paragraphs, one for each sequel (it was originally planned to be a series of four).  As it turned out, everything from about halfway through Book Two was to change drastically from my initial plots.  Part of the reason there was such a long gap between the sale of P&M and its publication was to give me time to write Books 2 and 3.

Words cannot express how hard it was to meet those deadlines.  I have always prided myself on being professional and I was so determined to be the author who met every target with quality and quantity and a big smile on my face.  I did pretty well to start off with, and even managed to get ahead of my deadlines as far as the writing went – which was totally necessary when my second baby was born!  It was the editing that killed me.  Juggling a school age daughter, a new baby and writing Book #3 was totally possible, but stretched me to the absolute limit of my resources.  So whenever one of those essential things like structural edits, copy edits or proofs arrived for one of the other books, I fell in a heap.  I resented that so badly, because I KNOW that I can do that kind of work standing on my head.  But it happened over and over, and every time I had to stop writing Book 3 to edit something, I lost all momentum.  It was hugely frustrating.  Luckily my publishers were understanding, and there was just enough give in the schedules to make everyone happy.  I know now that I need to take the fact that I have two children actually into consideration when planning deadlines.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2001 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. Did you find ROR helped you in developing or directing your writing and, if so, in what ways?

Being invited to join ROR was a lovely surprise!  It came at a time when I was quite dispirited about my writing career, and gave me a boost that was sorely needed.  To be treated as a peer by writers – all women in that initial group – who were older and more experiences than me really made me think about my future, and what I wanted from it, and how to raise my own expectations of what I could do.  Also you guys were totally right about what I needed to do with the beginning of Power and Majesty!

There were times when RORing a manuscript gave me the confidence to pursue it and turn it into something great – and other times where I did just let one drop, which is also a good thing to do from time to time.  More than anything, I love the time we spend together on those rare weeks away, talking about writing all night, hanging out together, and just FEELING like a writer.  It’s soul-feeding.

Q: What are you currently working on?

You have caught me technically between projects!  I have some editing and proofing still to do on the remaining Creature Court books, over the summer.  I’ve just this week finished a small collection of stories for Twelfth Planet Press which I shall be able to talk more about in due course.  And as soon as the school holidays end, I am plunging back into the world of sea monsters, kelpies and Nancy Napoleon to write FURY, a novel that I received an Australia Council Grant and Arts Tasmania grant to write.  It’s very exciting!

After that, who knows?

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals (what are you currently working on) and what are your dream goals?

My realistic goals are to sell at least one novel a year for the next five years, but particularly to get the Nancy Napoleon series written.  I have one other fantasy series that I long to write but it still requires a lot of sitting and thinking time.

My dream goals are to have a YA career in tandem with an adult fantasy career (once Jem gets to kindergarten I can TOTALLY manage this), possibly running a second writing name to keep it all straight in my head as well as the bookshop catalogues.  Also, I long to judge the Tiptree Awards.  They are my favourites and my best.  I would also love to win one, of course, but that’s almost too dreamy a thing to long for.  I want desperately to attend a World Fantasy Convention.

My dream goal used to be about earning a living from my writing, but as the mother of two kids who is also running a small business from home, my concept of “earning a living” has shifted somewhat.  I have a lot of jobs right now!  Having said that, I would rather like to help my honey slam our mortgage into smithereens.  He’s invested rather a lot in me over the years and it’s about time I paid some of it back.

The Give-away question is: “if you could change into an animal, which would you choose and why?”

Tansy will be giving away either a copy of Power and Majesty or Siren Beat  Please nominate which you would prefer to receive. The competition will be open until Tuesday of next week when we’ll announce the winner.

Follow Tansy on Twitter:

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Winner of Trent’s Give-away announced …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 13, 2010

Picking a winner is always so difficult. I really hate it, particularly when you have such a nice bunch of answers to choose from.

Gillian suggested the Aigues-Mortes (Dead Waters) in France and it is such a wonderful location that I am sure (if I was a much more meticulous researcher into the past of Pomping I would see that the Aigues-Mortes hosted a Moot in 1879, which indeed it did, now I’ve perused Brown and Sempkin’s Brief (and relatively secret) History of Pomps. Apparently there were two murders, a failed Schism (most Schisms fail), and a successful fishing expedition on the afternoon of the second day of the Moot, in which Mr D caught a xiphactinus, unfortunately at the cost of an Ankou, and two guinea fowl, why the guinea fowl were there is unknown.) So, as Gillian suggested, extinct food was also on the menu, possibly leading to the outbreak of a severe stomach flu which occured on the following day.

Chris L suggested Africa, and Africa has indeed been a popular location, and was the ONLY location until around 70 thousand years ago. I’m wondering if your mention of animals also included them on the menu. RMs are a bloodthirsty lot in the main – though these days a lot of them seem to go in for the tiny sandwiches cut into triangles  (crusts removed).

Cels suggested Tasmania, and I believe there … just let me consult Brown and Sempkin again…yes, a moot has occurred in Tasmania in 230BC(E) and 1606, though, of course, it wasn’t known by that name back then. And the food eaten would indeed be regarded as delicacies now – time makes everything a delicacy or, at the very least, exotic.

Belinda suggested Montville because it would cheer up the Pomps (and they can be a bit gloomy, thanks for considering their feelings) the local food is lovely.

I have to say I liked all of these answers, but I have to choose a winner, and I think I’m going to go with Belinda because (and I know this is a little unfair) Montville was where Death Most Definite had its cruel beating, I mean critiquing, by the ROR crew, and I really like the hills around there, and I could imagine my RMs hanging around discussing the business of death as the rain rolled in over the valley, much like we did almost two years ago.

Louise suggested London, to keep it all at a distance (Oh, those poor Londoners, they cop it with everything!) and bad food to get the RMs out as soon as possible. Interestingly, RMs always complain about the foods at these things, so I don’t know if they would notice.

So, Belinda, if you want to email me at teacupthrenody at gmail dot com with your postal address I’ll get your signed copy away to you.

Please let me know if you want it signed to anyone in particular.

Oh, and if any of you are interested, I’m more than happy to pop some signed bookplates in the post to any of the other contestants.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Nourish the Writer | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Cat and Cosmos …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 11, 2010

When I heard that Cat Sparks had been appointed editor of Cosmos Magazine I did the Happy Dance. The first thing I did was email and congratulate her and the second thing was ask her for an insight into what she is looking for as editor of Australia’s premier SF mag.

Take it away, Cat.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that authors want to sell their stories to the best venues possible – right? Therefore, a glossy magazine with newsstand and international distribution paying $300 for 2-4,000 word short stories would be utterly swamped with submissions – right?


My name is Cat Sparks. I’m a writer just like you and I’ve recently been appointed fiction editor of Cosmos, a glossy Australian popular science magazine which has to date scored itself forty publishing industry awards. I’m replacing Damien Broderick, one of science fiction’s grand masters. My own score includes five Aurealis awards, nine Ditmars and a Writers of the Future trophy.

A few years back Damien bought a story of mine for Cosmos magazine entitled ‘Street of the Dead’ []. I was truly thrilled when the issue came out. Big shiny pages with an illustration commissioned especially for my work. It was my third ‘pro’ sale and it meant I qualified for admission to Science Fiction Writers of America, a goal I’d been aiming at for years. Best of all, the magazine was everywhere in newsagents across the country. Most of my previously publications had been in magazines and anthologies with tiny print runs and limited distribution, making it difficult to show off my achievements to friends and relatives.

Back then Damien told me something I found difficult to believe. He said he didn’t get many submissions from Australian authors. After a few weeks replacing him in the editorial saddle, I’ve realized he wasn’t pulling my leg.

Practically everyone I know reckons they’re a writer and seems desperately hungry for the acclaim and accord that occasionally goes along with the profession. I observe them squeeing with excitement on mailing lists, blogs, Twitter, etc whenever a small sale to a low paying or perhaps even no paying market is achieved. And yet my inbox is far from bulging at the seams. All but a handful of the submissions I’ve received so far have come from overseas.

I have a theory and here it is. Is it hard to write a popular science themed story in 4,000 words or under? You bet. But you know what – it’s hard to achieve anything of true worth. Slopping paint randomly upon a canvas does not an artist make. It takes years to qualify as a hairdresser – why should storytelling be dead easy?

In a society where most people are literate, the mere act of writing has become commonplace. Storytelling, literature, writing – whichever words you prefer – must, by necessity, involve more than the mere accumulation of sentences on a page. Style, substance and setting are the keys. Without all three, you don’t have anything much. Yet there are plenty of venues out there in Internetland publishing cookie cutter ‘stories’ that do little more than tick the boxes. A protagonist? Tick? A beginning, middle and end? Tick tick tick. Something happens? Tick – or close enough. Anyone with a blog can ‘publish’ stuff. The often overlooked part of the equation seems to be the readers themselves.

Some writers play it as a numbers game. They boast a CV filled with publications I collectively refer to as ‘Chthulu’s arsehole’ zines. Work out for yourselves what I mean by that, but suffice to say that it’s a safe bet there are more people subbing stories than there are checking in for a quality reading experience.

As a writer, I want as many readers as possible to appreciate my work. Reading is an important part of my life and an important part of why I’m bothering to write in the first place. The term ‘publishing’ originally implied distribution. Whacking something up on a blog is not nearly enough. The site must attract readers and readers currently have a wealth of free material to choose from.

Cosmos boasts a readership of 400,000 per month. As fiction editor, what I’m looking for is a damn fine reading experience, for which I am offering to exchange real money. Seems like a reasonable proposition to me.

How ‘bout it?

Cat Sparks

Fiction editor, Cosmos Magazine


Cat Sparks lives on the sunny south coast of New South Wales. She works as a graphic designer and author and was recently appointed fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine.

Past experiences of note have included winning a trip to Paris in a major photographic competition, working as a media monitor, being appointed official photographer to two NSW Premiers, volunteering as archaeological photographer in Jordan, winning five Aurealis, nine Ditmar and one Writers of the Future awards, surviving six weeks at Clarion South ‘bootcamp’ for sci fi writers in Queensland and editing five anthologies of (mostly) Australian speculative fiction.

She’s currently working on a trilogy. Isn’t everybody?

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments »

Meet Trent Jamieson …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 7, 2010

I first met Trent at a Vision meeting back in 97, when Marianne and I were running the Vision Writers Workshop. He was working in a bookstore and writing short stories. Trent has had over 70  short stories published and his Urban Fantasy Trilogy Death Works is being published by Orbit.

We invited Trent along to the ROR we held in Varuna, because we knew we’d all benefit from his insight and we thought we needed some input from the male point of view.

Trent is one of life’s true romantics. His stories are both wonderfully whimsical and nicely ironic.

Trent has a copy of his latest book ‘Managing Death’ to give away. See the give-away question at the end of this post.



Q: Your stories have been finalists in the Aurealis Awards many times and have won two Aurealis Awards, yet I had trouble finding a complete list of your stories and where they were available. Are you not writing short stories any more?

I really should do something about putting a bibliography on my website. I guess there’s at least thirty stories I’ve published that I’d rather never see the light of day again, another thirty that I think are suspect and a handful that I’m happy with. Which may explain why I’m not writing any short fiction at the moment.

Short stories are too easy to screw up, and I’ve had a good twenty years of writing them (I started submitting short stories before my eighteenth birthday) so I don’t think there’s a pressing need for me to be writing them. Which doesn’t mean I won’t write any more, but right now I’m happy doing the novels.

Though, you never know when a story might grab you…

Q:Your Death Works trilogy is being published by Orbit. The trilogy is set in Brisbane, based on the premise that Death is a corporate business and your main character starts out as a little cog in a big machine. The Brisbane setting is evident and lovingly defined. Was there any resistance from your UK publisher to an Australian setting like Brisbane?

As far as I know there was no resistance from either my US or UK publisher. And these books are unashamedly set in Brisbane, but, hey, not every Urban Fantasy novel can be set in New York, New Orleans, London or Melbourne.

Q: You seem to be having a lot of fun with the whole Death as a Corporation premise. Where did this idea come from? Have you worked for a faceless corporation?

I just thought it would be an interesting approach to the grim reaper. Not so much a mystical job, but a job. And with the first book I was also writing with Work Choices very much in mind, things were looking for tough for workers and Unions, at the time, and I just reckoned that it would be even tougher for someone who worked for death. Must be the time for it, there’s a bit of a reaper vogue going on at the moment.

Don’t we all work for faceless corporations at one time or another – though they’re never really faceless. It’s the faces that make corporations interesting to write about. They’re states, cults and ideologies all rolled into one. I’ve had some interesting (and eccentric) bosses in my time, and there’s a bit of (some of) them in Mortmax.

Q: It is every writer’s dream to sell a trilogy. Yours wasn’t completed when you sold it. Have you found it challenging writing a book, while editing the previous one?

Yes, I was like the dog that catches the car. What do I with it now? Writing’s always challenging, and you never really know if you can do something until you’ve done it.

With all three books put to bed now, I think I can say that I know I can do this. Though, who knows, the next books I write may not go as smoothly (please ignore this, dear publishers).

It was harder than I expected in some ways – turns out, even with calendars and charts I still have a terrible grasp of time within a story – and easier, Steve’s voice often just dragged me through the narrative.

Q:You were working as editor for RedZine in 2001 How did this come about and what did you learn as a writer and editor while doing this job?

I learnt that editing wasn’t really for me, if I wanted to write. I also learnt that you really need to hook the reader from the beginning or you lose them, which I thought I already knew before this, but editing really drove it home.

Oh, and you should really read a magazine’s submission guidelines – they’re there to help you.


Q: Around this time Prime published a collection of your stories called ‘Reserved for Travelling Shows’. What did you learn in the process of compiling this anthology and is it still available?

One, that I had a bit of a death obsession, and two that really it was too early in my career to publish a collection. It’s a journeyman collection, and while there are some good stories in there, like all journeyman collections there’s some (to put it politely) not so good stuff, too.

It’s still available, and if you put the title into Google Books you can read a fair chunk of it.

Q: You’ve taught at Clarion South, and are currently teaching Creative Writing at QUT. You were a member of VISION for many years and you’ve been a member of ROR for the last 7 years so you have plenty of experience at critiquing. What is the most valuable thing you have learnt over the years about the craft of writing?

Be interesting, that is write what interests you, not what you think should be interesting or what you think you SHOULD be writing. The rewards of writing have to come from the writing itself first, and how can it be rewarding if you are writing something that really isn’t you, and that your heart really isn’t into.

Joy, enthusiasm, and peculiarity, these things make good writing for me.

Q: I believe you have handed in book three of the Death Works series. What is your next project?

I’ve three things that I’m working on. One is something that we critiqued in ROR, a duology called Roil and Night’s Engines. Another is a kid’s series called the Players (I’ve book One written, but I’m waiting on some feedback for that one) and, finally, I’m getting some notes and scenes together for book 4 and 5 of the Death Works Series – there’s still things I want to say about that world.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2003 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. ROR is very different from the VISION writing group in that we critique our novels in progress and we’re all published in novel length fiction. Did you find ROR helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways?

The simple answer is that I didn’t have a novel published before I joined ROR and now I do.

ROR to me is part critiquing group, part family. I find every member of ROR (awe)inspiring, and it’s great to have some wonderful writers with very different approaches to writing as friends and confidantes.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals and what are your dream goals?

Finish my current projects by the end of 2011, I think that’s realistic enough. As for, dream goal, keep writing what I want, but with a few less financial pressures would be nice, but if not, well, I’m kind of living the dream now.

Give-away Question:

If you were charged with organising a meeting of the world’s Deaths, where would you host it and what food would you serve?

The competition will stay open until Monday night 13th December 6pm and the winner will be announced Tuesday morning on the blog.


Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »