The CSFG has announced it will be opening to submissions on 1 August for its newest anthology, A Hand of Knaves, to be published in late 2018 and edited by my good friend Chris Large… and yours truly!
I’m not sure this is the most sensible decision of my life – I’ve got plenty of stuff going on next year after all (*cough*The Beast’s Heart*cough*), but Chris asked so nicely and I think the concept (which is totally his), of an anthology of stories about scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells is just brilliant. My imagination has already exploded with ideas!
We’re going to be looking for stories of up to 5000 words featuring knavish characters who are anything from mischievous rogues right through to evil bastards. It’s got to be speculative; we want a good mix of sci fi, fantasy and horror and all the sub-genres in between. We welcome stories from and about the full and glorious spectrum of human beings. Our main criteria (apart from those listed above) is that it just has to be good. The catch is that, given CSFG anthologies are a showcase of Australian speculative writing, you do have to be Australian, or an Australian resident, or at least a member of CSFG to submit. Head over to the CSFG Publications page to find out more about the kinds of stories we’re going to be looking for and how to submit.
That Aurealis Award I was nominated for a little while ago…
Well, the Aurealis Awards ceremony was last night, and…
I still can’t quite believe it.
I was happy just to be nominated. Seriously, to have my work rated as being on a par with the likes of Lisa L Hannet and Tansy Rayner Roberts, not to mention my very good friend, the extraordinarily talented Shauna O’Meara, counts as achieving one of my big writing goals, right there. My cheeks still hurt from smiling 24 hours later.
I’m not sure how coherent I was in accepting the award, so I’ll repeat all the eloquent thank-yous I wish I’d made here.
Firstly, thank you to Belladonna Publishing for picking up Pretty Jennie Greenteeth and bringing my strange little story out into the world.
Thank you to the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild for being the most amazing writing community ever and for offering generous and incisive feedback and critique on this story (and many others). It was especially exciting to share the shortlist with so many other CSFG members.
Thank you to my beautiful family for all the encouragement and giving me the space and time to write.
A big thank you to the tireless Aurealis judges for their commitment and energy in the face of a task of massive proportions.
And, finally, huge congratulations to all the 2016 Aurealis Awards nominees and winners, especially (again) CSFG members Tim Napper and Kaaron Warren, who won Best Horror Short Story (The Flame Trees) and Best Horror Novel (The Grief Hole) respectively. I have so many good friends among this list of excruciatingly talented authors, I’m still amazed to number myself among you, let alone have come home with an award.
Seeing my name on the 2016 Aurealis shortlist a couple of weeks ago was pretty bloody thrilling. There is a writing goal I’ve had my eye on ever since the moment when I first held a copy of Winds of Change – the anthology in which my first-ever published story appeared – in my hot little hands.
What made the nomination even sweeter was seeing how many of my really good writing buddies were on that list with me. The Australian Speculative Fiction community is pretty small and (in my experience anyway) a really collegiate, supportive bunch of people. I know a fair few people on that list now. But, among all the nominees I know and admire, it was very satisfying seeing how many of my fellow Canberra writers and members of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild appeared on the list:
Ian McHugh (nom for Best Science Fiction Short with The Baby Eaters in Asimov’s)
T R Napper (nom for Best Horror Short with The Flame Trees in Asimov’s)
Dave Versace (nom for Best Fantasy Short with The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat in Aurealis)
Shauna O’Meara (nom for Best YA Short for No One Here Is Going To Save You in In Your Face)
Kaaron Warren (noms for Best Horror and Best Sci Fi Short for 68 Days in Tomorrow’s Cthuluand Best Horror Novel for The Grief Hole)
Simon Petrie (nom for Best Sci Fi Novella for All the Colours of the Tomato in Dimension 6).
Echoing these sentiments, my mate Tim (aka T R Napper) tweeted:
(i critted five of the stories shortlisted for the @aurealisawards – think I picked the right writer’s group)
Which got me thinking about the important role my writing community has played in getting Pretty Jennie Greenteeth this far. In fact, in getting all of my stories published.
Just looking at Pretty Jennie Greenteeth, I found out about Belladonna Publishing and the anthologies they were producing through my writing group. Someone (I think it was Dave Versace) pointed me at their submissions call for their Black Apples anthology, which they knew was right up my alley. I didn’t end up getting a story into that anthology (damn), but I was instantly on it when Belladonna put their next call out. That willingness to share information about opportunities is something invaluable about my writing crowd, the CSFG. Especially to a rank rookie writer who had no idea who was who or what was anything. And not only did they help me figure out where in the industry I needed to be sending my submissions, but they also helped me figure out how to submit.
Start at the top. Work your way down. You’re never going to know what level you’re writing to if you don’t start at the top.
– Ian McHugh
^^That’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given. Submit to the best markets first. Where do you want most to be published? Go there first. You just won’t know if your piece was good enough for them if you don’t send it.
Then there’s the frank and fearless feedback offered by the CSFG critiquing circles. I’ve had my work critiqued by almost everyone on the list of nominees above. In fact, these guys are basically my go-to peeps outside the organised critiquing circle, especially when a deadline is looming, or I just want to sit & talk through a piece and really hash out the issues. Pretty Jennie Greenteeth went through CSFG’s short story critiquing circle. I got some really useful feedback on it, including, from memory, advice on dealing with a continuity issue, comment on a difficult-to-pronounce name and warning flags on cliches. But a good critiquing partner will also tell you where you’re going right. We’re all suckers for metaphorical pats on the head in this business, but damn it feels good when someone whose work you admire says they like your story. (Thank you Dave Versace and Tim Napper in this case.)
Then there’s what happens after your story gets published (if your luck is in & you get that far.) Tim Napper, in particular, is fairly tireless in his commitment to spruiking stories by Australian authors that he rates well. He regularly posts about good Australian fiction he’s read and he put this great post up recently with his recommendations on Australian stories that came out in 2016 that are eligible for the Ditmar awards (these are Australia’s fan-voted genre awards, the Aurealis awards are the juried awards). Even if you’re not necessarily eligible to vote in the Ditmars, it is worth checking out his list, because he’s recommended some fantastic fiction. (If you are eligible, you should get your skates on and vote – noms close tonight, 19 March, 11.59pm AEDST: list of eligible works, online voting form.) Full disclosure: he’s recommended one of mine, Breathing (Aurealis #95). But I am far and away the junior partner on that list, so I have no hesitation in adding my voice to his exhortations to read the others’ work.
I’m far from the first to point out writing can be a lonely business. And trying to judge for yourself whether your piece of fiction needs more work or is ready to send out into the world is a tricksy business. Finding your writing community, the right writing community for you, is a gift of incalculable worth. And it can make bringing your stories out into the world just that little bit easier.
Well, here is some exciting news! The Never Never Land anthology, containing my story “Adventure Socks”, is due out in ebook on 1 July!
To celebrate, CSFG are hosting some interviews with authors from the anthology.The first one up is Thoraiya Dyer, whose debut novel Crossroads of Canopy, set in a giant rainforest, is due out from Tor in January 2017.
Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.
This week’s guest is David Versace. I urge you to look out his stuff if you haven’t seen it before, because what comes out of his brain is often startlingly original and beautifully written. By way of example, and because he’s too modest to mention it below (or maybe he forgot), you can read his latest story, the flash piece Incidental, on Evil Girlfriend Media.
Tell me a little bit about your latest story and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.
The story is called “Silver the Moon in Ascension”; it’s a military adventure about magic robots fighting against werewolves. Stop that, I’m serious! As you can probably tell, it’s a secondary world fantasy, so I didn’t need to dive too deep on the research for this one. This was a Wikipedia-skim over the history of alchemy; the general beliefs behind alchemy, the purported qualities of various base metals, their symbolic significance and in particular the weird rivalries and status games of its practitioners. Much of it has been (ahem) transmuted for story purposes, but the real stuff is more than weird enough for future use.
How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?
With short stories, about half the time something cool I’ve read will prompt further reading and inspire a few ideas – and more reading. The rest of the time the general idea might come first and then I will realise I know nothing about international currency exchange laws or how a dog pound works, and then I hit the books. I try not to kill my writing momentum by going off to research, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I find it’s usually better to know enough about what I’m describing before I start than it is to rewrite after I discover I was completely wrong.
Is research a distraction or an inspiration?
Both. So very much both. Many of my best ideas have sparked from an “I did not know that” moment – especially when I take an occasional plummet into some corner of history or another. On the other hand, nothing puts the brakes on a story draft like the sudden realisation that you have no idea how the pre-Columbian Mayan economy operated, and your story hinges on whether they kept bees.
(Just an example. I know almost nothing about the Mayans…but now I have an urge to visit the library).
When you’re writing secondary-world or alternate-world stories, how does real-world research contribute to your world-building?
The real world is a pretty good resource when you’re making up a secondary world. The fact that the Mayans kept bees (or not) is a delicious detail that could open all sorts of avenues for your dragon-ravaged, kite-riding fantasy culture. I like to grab cool details from all over the place and then figure out how they could plausibly work together. Semi-plausibly, maybe. If you squint. Those small details, extrapolated outwards, can shape societies and economies and ecologies in ways you’d never expect.
What was the weirdest thing you had to research?
Over the last couple of years I have spent a lot more time thinking about the economics and politics of different track gauges – the distance between the rails on a train track – than I would ever have expected to. Those weighty contemplations have had sadly little bearing on the train story that originally prompted them.
Now that you bring it up, I have a dark suspicion I may have wasted quite a lot of my time.
He is a member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, who can vouch for his whereabouts on the night in question. He is a voracious consumer of speculative fiction, comics, wine, and television drama. He is teaching himself basic coding, bass guitar and how to write novels.
His heartfelt dream is to stop drifting aimlessly through the Australia Public Service, where he has worked for over 20 years. Until the dream becomes reality, he remains focused on corporate governance, risk management and business continuity, the sexy invisible lifeblood of well-regulated government.
He lives with his wife Fiona and two children. They tolerate his interests with patient good humour.
Hooray! On Sunday evening we launched The Never Never Land, containing my new story “Adventure Socks”, at Conflux 11. Nicole Murphy did the honours, noting that “Everything is better with dinosaurs”, and that happily Never Never Land does not disappoint on this score. We had readings by Cat Sparks, from her story “Dragon Girl”, and Shauna O’Meara (who also did the amazing cover and interior artwork) from her story “To Look Upon A Dream Tiger”.
I am really proud of my story in this anthology – and I’m thrilled to be sharing a table of contents with such a talented bunch. There are a swag of authors in Never Never Land with established and even award-winning careers, along with a handful of new authors for whom this is their first publication. Congratulations CSFG and everyone involved for putting out another fantastic anthology.
Conflux 11 is almost upon us! I’m especially excited about it this year, as I’ve been part of the organising committee and had particular responsibility for pulling the program together. There are still a few bits and bobs to sort out, but we are almost there.
Unfortunately I’ll be travelling for work on the Friday and Saturday, so despite it having completely taken over my spare time in the last few weeks I’ll miss those days. But I will be at the banquet on Saturday night, and there all day Sunday and Monday. Here are the panels you’ll be able to find me on:
2.30pm Sunday – I felt that – vivid prose, with Shauna O’Meara, DL Richardson and Alan Baxter.
4.30pm Sunday – Messing with mythology, with Amanda Pillar, Rob Porteous, Jane Virgo and Alis Franklin
10am Monday – Food in fiction, with Alis Franklin, Gillian Polack and Garry Dalrymple
4.30pm Monday – Fairy tales: princess complex, with Val Toh and KT Taylor
On Sunday at 5.30pm, the CSFG will be launching their latest anthology, The Never Never Land, containing my latest story “Adventure Socks”! Hope to see you there!
Congratulations to everyone involved. The lineup is fantastic, and includes a bunch of authors I’m very proud to sit alongside, as well as some new names.
I have to thank my fiddle teacher, the extraordinarily gifted artist Jacqueline Bradley, for the inspiration for this one. She makes sculpture using familiar objects in quirky, unexpected and thought provoking ways. While this story is not a direct response to any specific piece of hers, the idea behind it sprang from a conversation we had and feels to me like it has perhaps captured a tiny spark of the homely, whimsical spirit of her work.
Conflux is on this weekend!! This is the annual Canberra spec fic convention, and lucky for me it has a very strong focus on writing.
I’m participating in a couple of events:
On Saturday, 4 October at 12.0o, Simon Petrie will be launching his new collection of short fiction, Difficult Second Album, by Peggy Bright Books. At the launch, some of the other recent titles from PBB will be showcased, including Use Only As Directed. So I shall be doing a reading from “The Blue Djinn’s Wish”!