Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chris McMahon - the Mulberry Man.

The extremely talented, and award winning, Chris McMahon agreed to the following short interview. He's a good friend of mine, and one who has always impressed me with his work ethic and generosity with other writers. He's a Thursday Critiquer and one of those people who can tell you when a story is wrong, and offer a solution that, within a few days, you're certain you actually came up with yourself. A lot of my stories have come from conversations I've had with Chris over a beer or a coffee.

Is it true that you were raised by wolves? (It's nothing to be ashamed of, I was raised by a family of field mice.)

Actually it was even stranger. After being lost in the wilderness, surviving on wild Mulberries, I wandered deep on hidden paths. There I met an ancient grasshopper philosopher, carrying the next generation of grasshopper-sages on his back. He took me on a journey to the realm of thought and possibility, and when I returned, began to instruct me in his wisdom with great urgency, yet in profound silence.


Although my time with him was relatively brief, I did enjoy the Mulberries.

In a hundred words or less, how would you describe the Calvanni?

The Calvanni features a truly unique fantasy world - one without swords - where all metal is magical. The book follows the adventures of Cedrin, a street-wise calvanni (knife-fighter), and Ellen, daughter of the assassinated Sarlord, as they find themselves on opposite sides in a sudden civil war. First in the Jakirian Cycle, a planned series of six, the books follow Cedrin and Ellen as they confront the world of Yos and come to face deeper and more hidden threats - with plenty of great action, political twists and relationship tension. Eventually they must face a final challenge as the most ancient secrets that bind their bloodlines are revealed.

Who are your influences?

That's a tough one. I certainly have my favourite authors — David Gemmell & Steven Erickson for example — but I think I am more defined by my lack of early influences.

My exposure to books started late — so in a sense I had been creating my own worlds, my own stories before I was exposed to any others. The sort of books my contempories were reading never featured in my growing up. I created things in their place.

When I was old enough to take books out of the local library myself, old enough to take command of my own education, a whole new world opened up for me. Later I went on the read the usual ‘mainstays’ of SF&F, such as Tolkien, Moorcock, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, C.S. Lewis, Harry Harrison, Poul Anderson, Stephen Donaldson, David Brin etc

You're a trained engineer, and it shows in your world building. Yos is a fascinating place, that feels real. How do you think your background as an engineer affects your approach to writing - that is, if you think it does at all?

I guess I tend to be methodical, and that is an engineering trait, but I think I have that personally anyway.

My career and scientific background have definitely impacted my writing. Often something I would be working on or a research thread in my work would lead me to a really startling idea. I guess coming out of my engineering career a lot of those were science fiction ideas — but not necessarily.

It also had an impact thematically. Later in my career I worked at a policy level for a company many considered the ‘bad guys’, so I really got to see some issues from the inside. Some of the things I confronted, some of the choices I saw others make — good or poor moral choices — the way situations that impacted on individuals and communities were dealt with: these things really influenced me and my writing.

My move from the consulting to corporate world in 1998 completely transformed the tau-Ceti Diversion (my unpublished SF novel), which was undergoing one of its many re-writes at the time. The whole plot became a lot more political as apposed to military/space opera. The central character became a corporate executive desperate to restore his families waning fortune at any cost. It was great to explore those issues on the page

Fantasy or Science Fiction, which way do you lean?

I love both. I could not pick one over the other, although my passions do run hot and cold for them. Right now I am working on a new fantasy novel, so I guess I am more in that space, but that doesn’t stop me from pursuing SF concepts and reading science.

For me this question is a bit like the old conversation starter – ‘What single album would you pick if you were stranded on a desert island?’ I find that impossible to answer. I like a huge range of music, but am equally fickle about what gets me really going at any given time.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a stand-alone fantasy book set in neo-bronze age Ireland, Tower of the Mountain King. Its been a lot of fun to research.

The central character, Lathel, is the youngest son of a powerful clan. He was never trained to be a warrior, and was marked from an early age for Druidic training. He is rejected by the Druids after his testing as a Seer. Memories of the testing emerge only in fragments, along with crippling headaches.

In a sudden, ruthless attack, all of his brothers are killed, and the young prince finds himself thrust to prominence. The embattled forces of the West find themselves faced not only with an invading army, but dark magic. To succeed Lathel must embrace his mysterious heritage and take his birthright — the magic of the ancient Sidhe race.

You're a Brisbane based writer. How important is the landscape of Brisbane to your writing?

That really depends on what I am writing. When I created Yos I did try and make it a hot, sub-tropical world (when the suns aren’t eclipsing that is), more like our own climate than say your typical European fantasy book with people trudging through the snow.

Most of my fiction is set in totally unique environments, so being a Brisbane writer doesn’t really impact on setting.

Although when I wrote Murtagh’s Fury, which was one of the pieces selected for the One Book, Many Brisbanes anthology, I really tapped into my own memories and feeling for Brisbane. I found a rich source of material there, and a lot of images and memories emerged that gave richness to the story.

My novel Warriors of the Blessed Realms (unpublished), is also partially set in Queensland, so I used my own experiences to get the feeling of Brisbane, and of being out on the bay, on Fraser Island, where the central character Liam discovers a magical Gateway to the Blessed Realms.

Do you write every day? And, if so, how much?

I try to write something every day, although its often impossible between the demands of family and business (my wife and I run a Speech Pathology practice). Even the ‘business’ end of writing itself can threaten to swallow up your writing time.

In terms of my major projects, I try to write at least 10 hours a week, mostly during the weekdays, although this can be as little as four hours if things get hectic. If I am really firing — I’m the sort that really runs to the finish line — I might be at the keyboard 30 hours in a week. I find I can’t really focus for more than six hours at a stretch, although I have done more. I get exhilarated by my writing, particularly when its flowing, but it does tax me at a fundamental emotional level. Once I ‘come down’ from a big stint like that I feel satisfied, yet drained.

I used to do a lot of travel with my work, and I was lucky to always have had a laptop for that – so early in the morning before work, or late at night after I finished I could always go back to the hotel room and tap away.

When I travelled up to Gladstone for work, there were always quite a few of us in the same hotel and I think they were pretty convinced I was a hermit, or at least anti-social.


***
You can check out Chris' webpage here.

Long Day Tomorrow

It's a long day tomorrow. The place where I work is doing its stocktake. So it's actually a long day/night.

Lots of stories bubbling, my cold seems to be going away - the sore throat is dulling anyway - so feeling much less whiny.


Clown

Woke up just on midnight and the air was still and hot. When I say still, I mean not a breath of wind, but my wind chimes were clanging and they were heavy wooden things requiring more than a breath of wind, more than two breaths. I went to the window of my bedroom thinking, don't look. You don't want to look.

I looked.

There was a clown, banging the chimes. He gave a painted smile, that would have touched his eyes, if he had possessed any.

I checked all my doors were locked. I called the police. By the time they arrived he was gone.
They took notes. Regarded me with polite suspicion - there was an empty bottle of red on my kitchen table, I'd not done the washing up either - then left.

I didn't sleep that night.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It's a matter of Rank - a ramble that loses focus at the end

This is going to be a ramble, and bear in mind that it's merely my opinion. I've noticed a certain, well, I'd almost call it mean-spirited argument going around the traps. I must admit a bias because I'm involved as an editor on the project mentioned, and its was kind of review in which the reviewer was, in the nicest way possible, dissing stories they hadn't read yet. It's this whole ranking of authors thing.

I was going to say that I rank authors by how much I enjoyed them. But then I realised I don't really rank authors at all. I don't have a tiered system of authors. I go into every story, as a reader, with expectation and hope, and a name I recognise or do not. Which isn't to say that others don't.

There are many ways you can rank authors. Rank them on sales and the greatest writers are Agatha Christie, Dan Brown, and so on. Rank them on what everyone's talking about (everyone being a group of maybe three-four hundred - in the world, maybe forty in Australia - SF fans(mainly writers) who are into "the Scene") and it's writers like Kelly Link and Margo Lanagan, and Naomi Novik. Rank them on who's been around the longest. Or who has had the greatest influence. Or who's the cutest. Or who can bench the most. Or who is highest in calories. It's so arbitrary, and transitory.

Every author develops along a different arc. And every author has a different set of expectations, about what they are writing, why they are writing, and what they expect to get out of that writing. I love publishing my stories. But I don't write for publication, I write to work stuff out, and write the way I do, because it is the only way I can do it. If I was a journalist I would write stories about these things that way, if I was an academic I would explore my obsessions more critically - and God knows that would probably end these disjointed rambles.

Sometimes I write to tell a story. Sometimes I don't, all I want to do is convey an emotion, or follow a certain beat that a bunch of words and thoughts have provided. And some stuff I write because it's fun, and I like struggling with narrative, or I'm flirting with my wife.

I honestly don't know why other people write. And I don't feel in competition with them, or a need to rank myself against them. I've been writing fiction since I was about five, I'm only thirty three, I expect to write fiction until I die. But I'm not doing that for anyone else. I'm doing that for me. It's not a compulsion, it's just a thing I do, and it's helped me, and sometimes it sucks, but, hey ,there's always something new keeping me going.*

I'll be posting an interview with Chris McMahon up here soon. Enough of this shit about me, eh.

*BTW I'm ranked lieutenant of the Australian SF reserve army. I have never fired an adjective in anger, only verbs.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

I wrote that story when...

I had the flu. Diana was sick with it, too.

We both wanted to die, and yet somehow we'd ended up in a crumbling hotel complex in the middle of nowhere - we'd booked it a week before and were stubbornly determined to have a good time.

I wrote the first draft of it sitting on the balcony, in the mornings when I could still move about, and in the evenings feeling like crap, watching the sun set behind parched hills and listening to galahs squawking as they streaked across the sky.

I was thinking about how much I loved Diana, and how pleased I was that she was my wife, and how hard that was to frame in words, and what it might be like if you could shape reality by persuading it, and that magic seemed to me to be a form of eloquence, or, at the very least, demand eloquence, and how our politicians - and marketing departments - seemed to think that was the way the world worked.

It's a love story. And it, as most of my stories are, was aimed squarely at my love.

And the holiday was okay, if weird, and sickly.

The Last Story in "the Collection" is the New One - and it's a love story.

Persuasion

You know this. Of course you do. But I was there.

For a time, a decade or two, in old Redoubt, words were powerful. The Mechanism behind the world within The Bottle Grande (the vast underlying machinery and all that shifts the substance of that which drifts within the Endless Sea) became suddenly attentive and talk grew significantly more puissant.

It was not so much that people would believe anything, but that the Mechanism would.
A chaos of unbridled chatter reigned for a moment, but that swiftly gave way to something else. Those that spoke well rose high and fast and he spoke well, my Master, James Collins.

“Eloquence is reality,” He said to me, once — when it was literally true — after he had come back early from Parliament; they had whispered a swift close to the day, all those powerful garrulous folk tired of powerful talk. “And reality is bound by words, the right words, the appropriate ones, and then those words are truth. That is the source of power. Which is why one must always be careful in what one says, or even writes.”

“Right you are, Sir,” I said, brushing his jacket free of snow and dirt. “Right you are.”
He laughed at that, his bright eyes flashing. “Oliver, I am certain of the air and earth’s attentiveness, but do you ever listen to a word I say?”

Then he was gone, striding to his rooms and the company of good brandy and the meat of his lexicons, leaving me staring down at the wreck and ruin of his costume; wondering why he didn’t just talk it all clean and let me get on with some other work. But I knew the truth in that; idle hands are the Devil’s whisperings. These labours kept my hands busy and my mouth shut.

Today it feels like winter is coming, but not Winter.

I'm actually wearing a jumper today, and not just in the morning. It's cold in the shade, well cold for Brisbane. A story's got its tooth in me and is gnawing away at the back of my brain, and the point where pen and paper intersect.

Seems like the sun has already given up on this sunday. Long week ahead. But at least that story's gnawing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

On the Collection - it's about love, its workings and failure.

The first story in my collection is called "Threnody" it was the first story I ever sold, sold it to Eidolon in 1994, the day I got the acceptance letter was one of the best moments of my life up until that point - I've still got that letter. Threnody is about love, and the failure of love, and grief, the grief of a community for a lost child and the grief of the traveller who offers them succour. It was set in a post apocalyptic Australia on the North Coast of NSW - a part of the world that I adore.

Because this is my blog -and I get to pretend I am brilliant, and that everybody else agrees. I can also fly here, too - here are the first few para's

**

They waited for her on the outskirts of town, smiling wanly at her approach, waving as she came down out of the hinterland. She saw them and waved back, before wiping away the sweat that had run onto her brow, blinking it out of her eyes. She walked slowly, picking her way through the rubble, the broken scab of the black and steaming road, hidden in places by thickweed and lantana. Her steps were careful yet confident.

The sun sat heavy in the sky and shadows had become mean little things incapable of solace—drought shadows, dead shadows.

But she was prepared, had travelled so many roads, and the failure of shade was not enough to bring her pause.

The wide-brimmed leather hat she wore was brittle and old, the face beneath it weathered, though young. Young as anything was these days.

“Hello, Threnodist.” One of the townspeople called, when she was near enough to hear with ease. He was a man, tall and bulky, his wide face shadowed beneath his hat, his belly encased in taut flannelette.

She smiled and it was a weary thing.

“My name is Sal; please call me that,” she said and the man grinned back at her.

“As you wish, Threnodist. You heard our call and we are pleased.”

“I hear all calls. I come when I can. What is this place named?”

“Alst, this place is...A tidy town, please wear your seat-belt.”

“Alst, yes, I have heard of it.” She smiled a little vaguely and glanced eastward.

The man was pleased, his head nodding, eyes flicking to the others. She knows of us, see. Others know of this place.

“Come now, out of this sun. We have lodgings for you and food and drink. And talk, you must hear our story. Know our lives and...”

“I know my job, man.” She snapped. The man’s eyes widened, a little stupidly, then he grinned. He grinned a lot; his face was creased with smiles.

**

It's clunky, there are breaks in the rhythm of the story, on a sentence level, and the dialogue doesn't work for me now - a little too portentous - but I am still inordinately fond of this story, and the Shaun Tan artwork they paired it with, and the fact that it was in an issue of Eidolon (15) that had stories by a young hotshot called Sean Williams and a less young hotshot called Simon Brown, both writers that I'd admired from stuff I'd read in previous eds of Eidolon and Aurealis.

So that's the first story. And I still think it holds up okay.

Hey, it's friday, time to go do stuff.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Unwriting and the Modern Unwriter

I am now unwriting for at least eight hours a day. But if you're interested in seeing what it is I write, why don't you check out this. It's my book "Reserved for Travelling Shows". It was only released at the end of April, by these people.

You can even buy a shiny hardcover edition here.

And, if you do - that is, buy the hardcover - the next time I'm in town, I might come over and do your washing up. How about that, some authors sign books, me I'll do the dishes and sign your copy. Then again I might not. I might just wait until you're asleep, then slide under your door and take the book and sell it again at the riverside markets. I do that a lot, because, as you know, authors can slide under doors, in fact that is where a lot of writers meet for the first time. When I'm not writing, I'm under a door, and even when I am -actually that's where I am now, it's dusty here, and I can smell feet. I didn't say writing was pleasant, sometimes it's down right disgusting. Unwriting though, there's nothing more clinical.

Below is the first para of my unwriting manifesto, "Unwriting and the Modern Unwriter".*

Chapter One:

















* I'm sorry about the language.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Inner Child freaks out Grown Man

Is anybody else freaked out by that ad for the burger company in which children come out of a hinged door in adult's chests, sometime with miniature version of the adult's vehicles, to buy food from said burger establishment and bring it back? What happens if the kid doesn't make it back, say he's eaten by a leopard seal, or hit by a truck? Does that mean you're stuck with your chest hinged open forever? And how does the child know how to find you - I had an awful sense of direction as kid? And what happens if you get some other kid in your chest, and they start doing stuff, you know, squeezing your kidneys and stuff?

And how do they fit the little car in there? And where do people's organs go?

And what if you don't like said burger company's products, or you've got an inner child that just likes racking up monster bills on your credit card? For Christ's sake, interest rates are murder, and there's this little scab going out there and spending all your money: like how much did that little car cost anyway?

THIS AD FREAKS ME OUT.

Ramble after a glass of Pinot

The writers I admire are the solitary voices, the ones that make their own realities, not so much from engagement with the grand dialogue that is SF, but their own imaginations, perhaps using that dialogue as a lens.

They're the ones shouting out over the rest, and revealing their own worlds. Robert E Howard was one of these. To a lesser extent (though he may be my favourite SF author) Fritz Leiber. So was Mervyn Peake. I think Jeff Vandermeer may be another - Shriek an Afterword is an important book I reckon - and Margo Lanagan, not only with her short fiction, but some of the unpublished novel stuff I've seen.

These writers aren't just assimilators but visionaries. They're writing in, but independently of, a tradition. They all have (had) a clarity of voice, and a sure use of the landscape of their imagination. They are originals, even as their work comes from within a broader landscape of work.

More importantly these are writers that have so clearly captured a moment or a thing, or a series of things that other writers can't help but chatter back. That's what genre is, a chattery art, all argumentative. And things get comfortable, then writers come along, pick up their tools, and write all over the top of what has gone before, and it is splendid, or disconcerting, or horrible at first, then splendidly disconcerting.

Of course I could be full of crap. And writers can have visionary moments, then settle into blindness. And I'll probably change my mind, and there's a whole bunch of writers I adore, and it really doesn't matter what I think.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rain

It was supposed to rain today. It didn't.

It hasn't rained in a long time.

And when it does, it doesn't fall in catchment areas.

We're in some seriously deep shit.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Reading Writing Listening

I'm writing, slowly but surely, like a determined snail with a pen, kinda happy with things on the writing front. The books I'm dipping into are getting the creative juices flowing, rereading the Epic of Gilgamesh - for those wonderful mean and timorous Summerian gods - the cambridge New Solar System - for, well, a whole lot of stuff that makes my head spin but provides me with interesting nouns and verbs and cool vulcanology stuff.

Also reading Neal Asher's time travel cosmic horror novel "Cowl" it's really a lot of fun, and you can see he enjoyed writing it. The best thing being that I know I've got a whole bunch of his books yet to read, it's nice having something to get fanboyish about.

Talking of fanboyishness. I'm listening to a bunch of Will Sheff live tracks that I stumbled across. He's the lead singer of Okkervil River. There's a stripped back version of For Real that I absolutely adore - it's creepy, and fraught with a fragile menace, and I almost like it better than the studio version.

Got some interesting stuff I'll be posting soon. Including an interview with Chris McMahon. He's a writer whose star is definitely rising, and a good friend - makes an excellent home brew stout. You can buy his book here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Bad Poetry Collective

In one of my infrequent fits of tidyness I came across a whole bunch of bad poetry that I'd written.

Now, while I'd like to think I'm the greatest poet since Keats, it just isn't true.

Which is why I've started the Bad Poetry Collective Blog. If anyone would like to contribute, please let me know at tea cup threnody @ gmail.com (just remove the spaces) and I'll put it up the Bad Poetry Collective. No poem is too bad. To get the ball rolling I've already posted one here.

Please, share your shame.

Friday, May 19, 2006

On Proprietorship

I'm wondering what people feel proprietary about?

There's bands and writers that I feel proprietary about, that seem to speak to me directly. Usually they're things I discovered as a wee lad growing up in the wilderness of Gunnedah, when I wasn't too busy fighting bears or building log cabins. Fritz Leiber comes to mind. I love the Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories, and I can't read them without feeling like I'm back in Gunnedah curled up by the fire, just living those stories, and yearning to be there. Fritz Leiber's "Coming Attraction" is also one of my favourite stories, I've referenced that story in more things than I'd care to admit. He's also an author who I've made sure I still have stories in reserve - so I know that there are still work of his to read.

One of the things about feeling proprietorial is the desire to share your love of said author or band (or whatever) with someone else - you want them to get it, but only as long as they don't get it more than you.

You know what I'm talking about: you tell someone that you dig a particular band and they tell you about the time they lived with the band's drummer, and actually played a couple of sets with them when they were starting out, and your story about how you lost virginity listening to their first album doesn't sound that interesting. Or you say hey "I love Leiber's stuff" and they tell you, "well you should check out that book of essays I wrote on his short fiction", and then they start quoting "Coming Attraction" and making jokes about the Gray Mouser and Ningauble that you don't get.

Yeah, I've come to terms with the fact that some people feel more passionately, rigorously, or intellectually about the things I love. But it still sucks.

Which is why I started making up things to feel proprietary about, like the band "Widget Come Lately and the Plastic Matrix"* and the author Gribben G. Muddelhen, let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've read his novel "Reginald the Loveable Stoat" or the charming novella "Three Ships Explode, One Doesn't." It wasn't easy, but with a judicious mixture of self hypnosis and some new psychotropic drugs I've actually lodged these into my memory. Yeah, try and feel more passionately about those than me, and I'll just make more stuff up and not tell you.

They're mine.


*WCLPM's series of self titled albums (1, 2 and 3) are really cool, you should check them out. But, hey, I'm sorry, you can't.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Endings are giving me Grief

Endings are giving me grief. I'm having trouble with the endings of my stories. It's like I'm hitting some sort of story ending glass ceiling. I can see where te bastard ends but I keep hitting the glass. I take a long time writing stories, it's a slow process, sometimes I can just toss a story off(which sounds a little more sordid than I intended) but most times it's a line here, then pause, delete line, add another line, sigh, walk away, come back three years later and write another line. It's terrible and inefficient, but it's the only way that works for me. Longer fiction, works faster, it has it's own inertia. But short fiction, that's a grind. The only way I get anything finished is work on a lot of stories at once, and they're all in different stages, from a line or two, or a beat in my skull, to a line or so off being finished.

Like I said, this usually works for me, though it does have the effect that nothing you're writing ever feels new, but lately, endings are giving me so much trouble. And endings are hard anyway.

Just about anyone can write a good hook, but the difference between that and writing a good ending is the difference between having a hook, and actually catching a fish and eating it and rubbing your stomach contently, and saying "hmm, that was a bloody nice fish."

I'm not saying that I've actually done that - and, no, I'm not fishing (ha, ha) - but endings are important to me, and when they start giving me grief I get shirty.

The End

Talking of books with a nice fish ending. I finished Peeps last night, didn't have much to read, because I was up until midnight reading it the night before - thank you for that, Mr Westerfeld, yeah, really appreciated working the next day and all.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Walking Dogs - keep your gate closed.

Just came back from taking the dog for a walk. I'm a cat and a dog person, I probably lean more towards cats, but only marginally.

My dog, Ernie, is pretty cool. And one of the things I love doing is walking to the Brisbane river with dusk coming on and sitting there, with Ernie, watching the city. Brisbane has a nice comprehensible skyline. I'm hoping to get to the states next year and suck in that New York skyline, won't be taking Ernie though, he doesn't like flying further than interstate.

Last year was a traumatic dog walking year. In the space of a week Ernie was attacked by someone's German Shepherd - they'd left the gate to their place open, the dog rushed up and decided to see what Ernie tasted like - and another dog died rushing across the road to play with him. Again someone had left their front gate open and the dog just ran out and straight into a car. The driver of the car was traumatised, and the dog itself; I remember the shocked expression on its face, it's struggles to get up onto it's feet. A passer-by held onto Ernie, who had been oblivious to the other dog (lives in his own world, does Ernie) as I went to get the owners. Yeah, that was fun.

It's taken me nearly six months to get back to walking Ernie, regularly, and I've picked dog free routes. People if you've got a dog, keep your gate closed.

And I've resisted the temptation to put a photo of Ernie - or my cat, Cosmo - up here. Come on, people, I've already blogged about my favourite band, photo's of pets, well I want to come across with at least a semblance of cool.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Unwriting Continues - and some waffling, but not too much.

My unwriting muscles are developing nicely, words are being unwritten with increasing ease. I am also unreading for at least half an hour a day. It's a Zen thing.

Blogs are fascinating beasts. I'm still not quite sure where I'm taking this, I look at the blogs which I enjoy the most and they're all different, and they all fill a certain niche. An enthusiastically rudderless blog is my aim, but you can't force these things. Hoping to get some interviews up soon.

Btw there's another review of ASIM 22 here. Kind of a mixed review. Reviews are funny things, as a writer, I'm pretty ambivalent about them, because I always agree with the negative ones of my work, and find the positive ones rather suspect. By the time a story's been published I've normally moved on, I don't like reading my work once it's in print - it makes my skin crawl in fact. The story's dead to me, it's the ones still struggling to get on to the page that excite me.

Back to the old unwriting.

Peeps and a Darling - an enthused if somewhat inarticulate rave

I'm reading "Peeps" by Scott Westerfeld. A seriously cool YA novel. If you're after a fascinating and different vampire book this one is for you. And it's pacy. Imagine Buffy on speed and you're kind of in the same ballpark, except Buffy is so late nineties and this is so 2006.

Scott wrote one of my favourite books, "Evolution's Darling" I can't recommend it enough. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's one of the most important and unappreciated books in the SF canon. It possesses a delicacy of prose and a fecundity of ideas that leaves most SF looking a mite shabby, and it is also deliciously funny. Most importantly it seems to divide readers. Check out the reviews at amazon, in which Stephen Dedman writes much more clearly about this book than this humble blogger is capable.

Anyway, you gotta read that book.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Future History: a non-erudite exploration or get your Future History pip(er)ing hot here

Reading Neal Asher has gotten me thinking about Future Histories

Future Histories have held an appeal for me since I was about 14. I'd not come across the concept until I bought a copy of H. Beam Piper's "Empire". And there it was, all neatly mapped out, Empires rising and falling across the vast distances of spaces. Of course, according to old H. Beam the first lunar base was established in 1974. For a few years I was addicted to the damn things - if a book didn't have a timeline at the front, it was rather suspect.

These days I much prefer hints at the broader picture, rather than neat delineations of history. A book that does this most satisfyingly is Michael Swanwick's "Stations of the Tide". There are loose connections with a previous novel of his "Vacuum Flowers" he leaves it to the reader to fill in the gaps. If they're actually connected at all, and they may not be, though I like to think they are.

But, in the tradition of H.Beam Piper, (and that lesser known writer Heinlein) I present to you:

Trent the Future History the very brief Time Line.


1972 December 28 - Trent Jamieson is born. Five hundred years later, the 28th of December is the major galactic holiday. Though some people deny Trent ever existed.

2009 - Trent invents the Trent Drive, using various household items, and six grams of anti-matter extracted from a common garden hose. The Trent Drive is capable of faster than light travel.

2010 - Faster than light travel brings world peace. Conflicts being resolved in death matches in vast sporting arenas, as people come to terms with the illogical cause of world peace.
Incidentally Trent is the best at such death matches, though he has sworn never to compete.


2012 - Trent Corp becomes the most powerful organisation the planet has ever known. Trent uses money for mainly hedonistic purposes - after all his invention brought about world peace.

2013 - First AI smarter than a human is created. It recognises Trent as the ultimate intelligence. Trent humbly accepts its obeisance.

2020 - Trent leaves the earth, with his AI companion Tonto Friday Jones, in search of other life. He never returns, but, after entering a temporal rift, actually creates the universe.

His first words, "Let there be light."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Neal Asher - and other things

The one thing that this flu has done - besides leading to some rather odd entries - is given me time to read. I just finished Neal Asher's book "Brass Man" set in his post-singularity Polity future. I'd not read any Neal Asher before, and this book is very much conected to his earlier novels, so I was thrown in the deep end. I thought it very clever, and a lot of fun. A word of warning though, if you don't like multiple POV stories that leap backwards and forwards in time, with flashbacks on flashbacks, you might want to keep away.

What I enjoyed most about the novel, other than the world building - Asher knows how to design fascinating monsters - was the way he successfully conveyed the sense of information overload. The characters drown in it. The book is solidly in the more action oriented tradition of Space Opera - maybe Old School New Space Opera - but it doesn't suffer for it.

Something that excited me was Jonathan Strahan's announcement that he and Terry Dowling are editing a Jack Vance Treasury. Jack Vance is one of the greats, a master world builder - he filled his books with multitudes - satirist and fine, fine storyteller. This has to be one of the coolest books due to be released. It's been a while since I've read his short fiction, it'll be interesting to see how it reads now.

Another book I'm looking forward to reading is the yet to be finished "Power and Majesty (The Creature Court)" by Tansy Rayner Roberts. This book has yet to find a publisher, though once she finishes it I am sure it will. Check out her blog here it's always interesting, and thoughtful, and not nearly as foolish as this one - well, not foolish at all, really.

Tansy is in my crit group ROR. I am extremely proud of that groups' achievements, and am hoping that at least a little of their talent will rub off on me.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My Favourite Author



My favourite author is Faulkner. As in William. He scares me. Whenever I want to feel bad about my own writing I read Faulkner. Patrick White does the same thing to me, but for different reasons. There's a certain visionary quality about Faulkner's writing, a certain solidity to the prose. It's like reading thunder - if thunder was made of stone.

One of my dearest friends introduced me to Faulkner a few years ago. I love her and hate her for it.

Faulkner considers scaring your humble blogger, this time with an axe.

My Favourite Band

Well, the flu sure puts the kibosh on the old blogging. I just wanted to direct your attention to my favourite band, but this being a blog I'll do it the long way round.

I'm a filler of notebooks. Most of my writing is scribbled in these black art diary things, in the interstices of my life, on the train to work, or back, or before I go to bed - yeah, I like to catch the train to bed. I'm a big believer in notebooks, sometimes they go bad, or I forget one, and when I get back to it, it has decided to screw with my writing, so I have to buy another one, which means I have a hell of a lot of notebooks in my study, they make soft mewling noises in the night. I'd prefer it if they made coffee, but I can't afford those sorts of art diaries.

I was flicking through the one that sits by my bed yesterday and I found this. Blogs are essentially about found things, and I've always been a sucker for framing devices, anyway it's about my favourite band, and it commits the cardinal sin of using the word should - should is a nasty word.



*

Last Love Song for Now.

Short fiction should build. It should crackle like the hours before a storm, tension, then the blazing roaring release. A good song should do this, and Okkervil River's "Last Love Song for Now" is all build and then raw release. The vocals lift and rage, the fairytale lyrics, grown all epic, become human and desperate, and the sheer emotional intensity of the album Black Sheep Boy and it's follow up ep Black Sheep Boy Appendix come to a satisfying close.

Okkervil River was my find of 2005, not only that but I was privileged enough to see them live. And it was a flawless performance, on a very hot December night, and hot December nights are really something in Brisbane.



*

And then the notebook bit a chunk out of my hand and fled beneath the bed.

Okkervil River are my favourite band. Check out their webpage. They're really, really cool.
Here is the artwork on their latest t-shirt.





Monday, May 08, 2006

Ache

I'm totally down with the flu - at that stage where you're fidgitty and lying in bed only makes you feel worse. Started organising my files on my computer, and found this, something I had written many years ago, for a VISION newsletter. It only caught my eye because the file name was ache. Which makes sense when you have the flu. It's a little clumsily written, and a tad breathless (which is a valid criticism of a lot of what I write) but...


Ache.

Most stories, for me at any rate, start off not so much as an idea, but as a kind of ache. A longing around which the story wraps itself. Writing is a bittersweet thing, an anxious act of creation that I both love and dread. Who can deny the heady delight of phrases flowing swift and potent from the fingers, or the disgust of discovering a poorly structured sentence or an ill-used word?

SF writing engages me because of its density of meanings and language; its creation of worlds and colours and feelings. When I write I ache, I yearn for words of power and images and ideas and hints of something greater; that this story, these words, are webbed with a thousand other tales and histories .

For me as a writer, I don't think of plot, I don't think of character, but rather I seek to express that longing, to let the chorus in my skull sing onto the page - however out of tune that may be. That is the art. Of course the craft must raise its head, the cruel and loving compromise. An artist must ever be a craftsperson if they want to communicate with others - and more so if they ever want to sell!

That ache must, at last submit itself to order, it must find its engine plot, and its beginning-middle-end, and become a coherent thing. That is another magical aspect of writing. The potential of that ache, that becomes story, to be read by others, to evoke in an audience a sense of that initial longing. The stories that have captivated me as a reader have always been invested with feeling.

Perhaps I am drawn to pain in my fiction. But life is ache, and fiction is for me, as a writer, a reflection of this. When I feel that ache, that subtle but so very powerful seed, I know that I am on the path to an interesting if not good story. No work I have ever finished has begun without it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bloody Colds

I woke up yesterday with a bit of a sore throat, today I've the sore throat and all the accoutrement of a cold. My sinuses are actually squeeking, of course that could be a result of the unfortunate, and until now, extremely secret, habit I have of snorting mice. I've tried to give it up, used patches, the whole deal. None of it has worked.

This seemed funnier when I was lying in bed. Colds suck.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Singularity is Near - as in Ray Kurzweil's

I'm reading Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near" and enjoying it, though I really think it should be called "the book of one graph" or "the way one graph repeated ninety times illustrates the same story" or "the only way is up (see graph)". Seems, according to these graphs that we're all going to be uploaded in the not too distant future, and then a series of ever escalating graphs will slowly digest the universe. So you better get your x and y axes sorted or you're seriously screwed.*

Personally I like my post singularity stuff to be a bit racier, see here

This author is also writing some rather kick arse post singularity stuff too, and you'll only have to wait until March.



*Which is extremely unfair, because I've only read until page 107, and the graphs drop off after that, a quick scan tells me.

I've been thinking a lot about death lately, which means life, which means the family that you've made

A member of my extended family died about a month ago. We weren't particularly close, but they were a person I respected immensely, and if I can live a life half as interesting, and with half as much integrity I will count myself a very lucky man. Their passing left a great gap in my family, and a lot of grief, but it has also reinforced to me, starkly and awfully, how important family is. Without the wonderful family I have, and the wonderful friends I have made - and I am so lucky that I can count my family as friends - my life would not be nearly as fine as it is.

I live through my family. They are my memory, because we share a past, and we bind up that past together. They share my grief, and I share theirs. I'm not a particularly demonstrative person - which is one of the reasons I write, because I find it extremely hard to show my emotions, and don't get me started on hugs, I am the most awkward hugger in the world - but I just wanted to say this now. There's nothing more important to me than my family. And of my family, my extended family, there is no-one more important to me than Diana, pretty much everything I write is informed by that relationship, but that's for another entry.

Anyway, family is what you make it. It's a made thing, as much as blood thing. What are you making of yours?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

GET YOUR PIPING HOT ASIM HERE - well there

Say you don't have much space on the old shelves, a major problem at my place - I've started stacking books on the backs of my pets - but you'd really, really like to buy a copy of ASIM 22.

Or maybe magazines offend you, as a result of some sort of unfortunate magazine related accident from your childhood. But, hey, that Tangent review was pretty good, and the one in horrorscope likewise, so if only you could get past that slightly sinister magazine format, without getting therapy - though you probably should, think about all those issues of NW you're missing.

Well, now you can, just follow the link




Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Augie March - ya gotta see them, `cause the boy can sing

Just got back from seeing Augie March at the Zoo, and they were fantastic. I'm a new convert to the band, basically on the back of their new album "Moo, You Bloody Choir". The album's great, and their back catalogue is too, but live, well, it was one of those gigs where you find yourself rediscovering every song, and growing all fanboyish, and just grinning a lot.

If you get a chance to see this band, do it. Lyrically and musically they're one of Australia's most interesting rock acts. Is this just late night, and a couple of beers, hyperbole? Well, I don't know. But I haven't enjoyed a live act as much since Okkervil River toured last year.

Now I've got to sleep.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Excellent Day

Well, today has been an excellent day. Received some highly secret, highly wonderful news. So secret, in fact, that if I was to reveal it the ninjas hidden in the eaves (as opposed to the ones tucked in the wardrobe) would silently and swiftly, drop down, slash my throat and destroy my computer - in fact I can see them stirring.

Yes, today has been an excellent day

Monday, May 01, 2006

Hairless, Reviewed, a Name Named, and Names Not Named

I shaved my beard the other day - on a whim. For the first time in nearly seven years I don't have a beard or a moustache. I feel naked. I keep repeating, I am not my facial hair, I am not my facial hair. But what if I am?

My unwriting has continued apace - some days I've unwritten as much as a thousand words, a few of them were verbs, they're never easy to unwrite, verbs have teeth.

Continuing the untheme, I just had a story unaccepted, and a less than wonderful review of my story in ASIM 22. You can read it here.

Even more reason to buy the magazine, dear reader. You can nod your head and say, "Yes, that reviewer got it right." The review has lovely things to say about some of the stories, well most of the stories, and having read ASIM 22 I'd have to agree, though not with his assessment of Shane Jiraiya Cummings' tale, I thought it a pretty neat piece of flash fiction. It's a great issue - worth the price of admission for the Adam Browne and Lee Battersby stories alone - Tansy Rayner Roberts, the issue's ed., should be proud.

Talking of Tansy, she's having a great year. I've just read an excellent short of hers in the Outcast Anthology - in my opinion one of the best of the CSfG anthologies to date. "Holding out for a Hero" is an utterly charming tale that plays a neat riff off Moorcock's Eternal Champion multiverse stuff, and Westerns. It also manages to combine humour with an oddly touching sense of pathos. Tansy also has a story coming out in the new AGOG anthology - an anthology that has one of the best TOC I've seen, and is sure to show the depth of talent that this country has at the moment. A mixture of old and new guard, it's enough to get this little black duck of a freshly shaved short story writer nervous - too many damn good short story writers these days.


There's been a lot of talk about the quality of Australian SF short fiction, whether there were too many markets, not enough markets, or whether or not we were actually even producing quality fiction. I get the feeling that the next few anthologies, Eidolon, Agog, and Cock (amongst others) are going to answer that definitively*. We've got some seriously good writers out there who have grown in both confidence and skill, and that has come, at least in part, from having markets like ASIM, Aurealis, Shadowed Realms, and Ticonderoga Online, regularly producing issues, and giving writers the space to grow, to fail sometimes, but then move on.


I'm not going to name names, because the problem is there's too many good names now, too many people I'm sure I'd leave out. Which is cool. I like that problem. It means there's always going to be stories to look forward to, to get passionate about, and chatter about.



*Whether or not it needs a definitive answer is another thing. And, of course these things, ebb and flow.