The birth of a short story

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 Cthulu and 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:

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.

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Ian McHugh & Tim Napper, celebrating Aurealis noms

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.

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Conflux 10

Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O'Meara
Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O’Meara

As usual, Conflux was a whirlwind of delights. I caught up with writer friends from all over the country, and even other bits of the world. I attended a bunch of book launches, bought a bunch of books, went to some fascinating panels, and sat around eating pizza & drinking cider & chewing the fat with some fantastically interesting people. Highlights?

The guests of honour were great. Hearing Margo Lanagan talk about her early career, and how she wrote Tender Morsels was a definite highlight and I came away from that one with inspiration tickling away in the back of my brain. Alisa Krasnostein also gave an interview on some of the remarkable things her small press has done, particularly in promoting spec fiction written by women. I found her deeply inspirational as well.

I can’t think of a panel I didn’t enjoy, but the standouts for me were:

  • editing anthologies (one day, maybe!)
  • grief, loss and trauma with Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, Kaaron Warren and Isobel Carmody (who wasn’t on the panel, but was in the audience and commented on a piece of her work that was read out)
  • describing the journey (a panel on how you describe the world of your story through your character’s eyes), with Kaaron Warren, Russell Kirkpatrick, Simon Petrie and Isobel Carmody.

Even spending time staffing the CSFG dealer’s table was extremely pleasant, as it meant I got to sit and chat with the likes of Kaaron Warren and Rob Porteous.

The convention was a little smaller this year than it has been in previous years, I understand. But everyone seemed to think this was not such a bad thing, as it meant more opportunity to actually connect with the other attendees. Kudos must go to the hero of this year’s Conflux, Karen Herkes Ott, and her small but mighty Conflux 10 team.

I was so inspired by their incredible efforts that I  have ended up as the Vice-President of the Conflux Committee, and will be involved in organising next year’s convention! I have a feeling that’s going to be a heap of work, but I’m kinda excited, because based on the brainstorming the new committee has done already, it’s going to be awesome.

Coming up: reading & panel discussion at Conflux 10

Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O'Meara
Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O’Meara

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”!
  • On Monday, 6 October at 4pm, I will be part of the Denouement – the Journey’s End panel with Richard Harland and Daniel O’Malley!

I’ll also be doing my bit to staff the CSFG table in the dealer’s room around lunchtime on Saturday & Sunday, so please come along & say hi!

The Blue Djinn’s Wish – reviewed!

I had a really long day today. Up at 5 am to head off to Sydney for work; long day full of meetings; back on a plane at 6 p to fly home. Then, once the plane landed, we sat on the tarmac for ages waiting to taxi back to the airport. Fortunately, they let us turn our phones back on, so I jumped on FaceBook to while away the time.

And look what I saw!

Use Only As Directed

A link to a new review of Use Only As Directed by Melbourne writer and astrophysicist Tsana Dolichva; and look what she has to say about the antho and  my story!

There is a wide variety of stories contained within; every story sticks to the theme, but there are a lot of very different interpretations. I appreciate the lack of homogeneity and the novelty of getting something completely different each time I picked up the anthology.

My favourite stories were “The Blue Djinn’s Wish” by Leife Shallcross, “Future Perfect” by Janeen Webb and “Home Sick” by M Darusha Wehm.

She goes on to say of The Blue Djinn’s Wish

Easily the best genie story I’ve ever read. The princess who finds the magic bottle is happy and already has everything she could wish for, but will that last?

Now obviously this blog is where I blow my own trumpet, so to speak. But I’ve gotta say a big thank you to Tsana for taking the time to review UOAD and saying such lovely things about my story. I’m still kinda new at this, but the thrill of hearing that someone has enjoyed one of my stories is something I don’t think will ever get old.

Thanks, Tsana!

New story! With bonus review!

2014 started with a bit of a bang for me, with three story sales fairly early on. The first of these is about to be published in the latest Peggy Bright Books anthology, Use Only As Directed, edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey. It will be launched in June at Continuum in Melbourne. (You can see the intriguing cover art by Lewis Morely below)

In it is my latest story, The Blue Djinn’s Wish! I’m excited about it because I love this story and I’m thrilled it’s finally out there in the world. But wait, there’s more! The first review is up, it’s very favourable…and my little tale got a mention.

 The Blue Djinn’s Wish by Leife Shallcross was a gentle story of a djinn and a young girl granted the traditional three wishes. However what comes of that is far from traditional – and a terrific riff on an old tale.

This is the my first review ever, and what a lovely one it is. Thank you, Steve Johnson. I’ve now got my e-copy of the book, and am looking forward to reading what the other authors have on offer. I’m in quality company, so my expectations are high!

Use Only As Directed