Sunday, August 31, 2008

Self-Help - the New Sunday Tabernacle

As I sit here in the bookshops on weekends it is becoming clearer to me. The 'Self-Help' section of bookshops has become the new Sunday tabernacle: a destination worthy of pilgrimage and reverence.

The 'Self-Help' section is always one of the most frequented areas of most bookshops. If you only have one customer in the store, they will probably be standing there in front of the Deepak Chopra's, Sylvia Browne's and John Edwards'.

The boss here has this thing where we are supposed to ask every customer staring at a bookshelf "Can I help you with anything?". Normally I don't mind doing this but I'm loathe to do it when the customer is standing in front of 'Self-Help'. They shouldn't need my help! They've clearly displayed how much of my assistance they need from me by being there, in SELF help, in the first place. Ironic that the 'Self-Help' section is then filled with books by others telling you how to live your life.

Anyway, it is a popular section.

But, on Sundays, it comes alive! The otherwise quiet bookshop fills with a constant stream of middle-aged housewives, needy emo-girls and demasculated men.

"Could you tell me when the next Sylvia Browne book comes out?"

"Did you see Allison Dubois on Oprah the other day?"

"I've been feeling very closed in lately, very... emotionally and spiritually stifled. Do you know what book might be able to help me? I thin it might be psychic vampires, or maybe the spirit of my grandmother."

"Do you think men are really from Mars and women from venus?"

On Sundays, the pilgrims come - looking for a quick fix of that new-age-religion to replace the gap left by the old-time-religion they miss so much but can't actually admit to. They kneel, as if in prayer, before the shelves. Their eyes scan the shelves, trying to discern auguries of their future from the array of titles etched on spines. Titles of crypto-babble and pseudo-spirituality designed to intrigue and offer hope. The new 'Great Mystery' laid out before them, if only they could decide which book holds the true Covenant of Eternal Happiness.

Is the Truth to be found in "Healing Words from Angels"? Or, "The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades" or "The Fung Shui Way"? Maybe it is in "Buddhism for Busy People" or "The Rise and Fall of Atlantis"?

Every Sunday they come to seek the answers to the mysteries, to unlock the hidden powers within themselves through the action of digesting (for this is my body) someone elses words of wisdom and drinking in (for this is my blood) the wisdom that flows from America's publishing heartland.

After what seems an age these abeyant pilgrims rise, the pattern of the carpet a stigmata on their knees. Their hands reach forth in sudden understanding, grasping a title, grasping for a new saviour. They have chosen and, as they leave the shop, solemn and awed by the wisdom of the blurb they have read, they are happy to pay the premium at the counter for a book that costs three times what it would if it were correctly classed as fiction.

But that doesn't matter, for they are happy, renewed, expectant of delving into the pages of their new bible... at least for this week. For, next week, they will return to kneel before the shelves to find a new answer, a new voice to tell them how to live their lives without having to think for themselves. Meet the new religion, same as the old religion. Only the venue has changed.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shadow Plays Anthology - Upcoming Release

...a shadow may cast a man as often as a man casts a shadow...

The Shadow Plays anthology now has a new website ( to coincide with its upcoming release on 21st April.

Described by editor Elise Bunter as twelve original stories that "cover the spectrum of darkness and light, fear and wonder, intrigue and adventure", Shadow Plays looks like it has turned into exactly the sort of anthology I'd want my first published story to appear in... and it does!

First, look at that marvellous Les Petersen cover! It is very different to any of Les' work I've seen before, and I love it!

And then, there is the author listing:

  • Ashley Arnold - The River Man's Spirits
  • Brendan D. Carson - The Omensetter and Hu Lijing
  • Sarah Drummond - The Red Curtains
  • D.H. Duperouzel - Of Wind and City
  • Richard Harland - Musgrave
  • E.J. Hayes - Crystal and Iron
  • Ren Holton - Bab and Anusha
  • George Ivanoff - Nigella and the Clockwork Man
  • Penelope Love - Whitey
  • Andrew J. McKiernan - Calliope: A Steam Romance
  • Robert J. Santa - A Jury of Peers
  • Nigel Stones - When the Black Crow Flies

It all looks like Elise has done an excellent job of bringing this anthology together and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on it. I hope you are too :)

Shadow Plays will begin shipping April 21st, but you can pre-order direct from the website now:

Shadow Plays Website
Order Shadow Plays Anthology

Source: Elise Bunter

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Shards: Forty Short Sharp Tales

I was pretty excited to notice that Ticonderoga Publications have announced the publication in October 2007 of "Shards: Forty Short Sharp Tales" - Shane Jiraiya Cummings' first short story collection, and my first collection of illustrations!

As the title so obviously suggests, "Shards" will contain 40 of Shane's stories reprinted from publications such as Shadowed Realms, Dark Wisdom, Andromeda Spaceways, Apex Digest, Borderlands, and Shadow Box, including those that have been honourably mentioned in the Aurealis Awards and in Ellen Datlow's Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology, as well as a swathe of material original to the collection.

Each of the 40 stories has its own black and white full-page illustration, by me.

I think that this book - with its combination of brilliant short, dark tales and dark, moody images - will be something quite different to what everyone else is producing for the adult horror/dark-fiction market at this time.

Ticonderoga Publications will be publishing a limited edition trade paperback and a signed 30-copy numbered edition of Shards. Pre-ordering is available now at the Ticonderoga.

ISBN: 978-0-9803531-0-5

Numbered Edition tpb (30 signed copies): Aus$49.50 / US$40

Limited Edition tpb (500 numbered copies): Aus$24.95 / US$20

Of course, now I'm going to urge you all to rush over to Ticonderoga and pre-order yourself a copy! Support poor starving Andrew, Shane and Russell (and Australian small press in general) and head on over to: Your nightmares will love you for it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kephra Announcement: New Workforce Retention website

Kephra Design are proud to announce the completion of the brand new website of our client Workforce Retention (

Workforce Retention specialises in helping organisations to manage retention through effective diagnostic tools, workshops and consulting.

Their website is a PHP and MySQL driven portal with Content and Page Management, Client Login areas and a comprehensive Survey creation and reporting tool developed by Kephra Design specifically for this project.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wahoo! An acceptance.

I've just heard that my story "All the Clowns in Clowntown" has been accepted for publication in the anthology Macabre: A New Era in Australian Horror.

From the website:

Macabre, edited by Angela Challis and Marty Young, with the endorsement of the Australian Horror Writers Association, is expected to be a landmark anthology for dark fiction in Australia. It will feature many of the greatest Australian horror stories ever written, alongside the best of the current generation.

Check out the current contributor list - Terry Dowling, Sean Williams, Richard Harland, Kaaron Warren (amongst others). I can't quite believe my name will be on that list too.

I've been looking forward to Macabre pretty much since it was first announced. I'm looking forward to it even more now.

Thanks to all those here who critted this story when I first wrote it. They were immensely helpful in whipping it into shape!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Anthology Debate

Author and editor Shane Jiraiya Cummings has had his stick out to stir the hornet's nest over at his Smoke and Mirrors blog.

His post, regarding the number of 'themed' anthologies in the Australian small press at the moment, has gathered the usual amount of disagreeing comments that such posts attract. It is not an noxious post, and the replies (even though most are in total disagreement with Shane's arguments) are intelligent and totally lacking the usual vitriol that can sometimes accompany them.

It is interested then to see that the post has made it to ABC's Articulate blog.

I see the essence of Shane's post as encapsulated by the following statements;

  • "...we appear to have a slew of anthologies that boast fairly uninspiring work."

  • "...when I see one or two mid-list names as the top drawcards in an anthology, it really does make me question the inherent quality of that project"

  • "Also, when we're getting into such specific and specifically bizarre themes for anthologies [...], can such topics support a full anthology's worth of quality writing?"

  • "...the most successful themed anthologies are the ones with broad themes that can allow for lattitude."

  • "...commercially, unless there is a strong contingent of 'knowns' [known authors in the table of contents], the theme better be damn good to sell books."

I can't really disagree with some of what he is saying as both a reader and a writer.

As a Reader:
I know I base my purchases on whether the table of contents contains authors that I know and have enjoyed. Although I am VERY glad they exist, I can't afford every anthology out there, and so I must have some selection criteria;

Firstly, does the 'Theme' interest me? (If it is a themed anthology)

Second, if so does the table of contents include authors I know I'm likely to enjoy? If not, is the theme interesting enough for me to want to take a chance?

Third, is the editor/publisher known for their professionalism and enthusiasm for Australian Spec Fic? (This only if I'm still left with a number of books to choose from after winnowing them down in the previous two steps). If the editor/publisher have good reputations I'm more likely to buy. If I know an anthology is by an editor who will really cares about the stories, about presentation and readability, I'm more likely to buy.

If I'm still left with too many books to choose from then I might start to get really superficial and resort to deciding based on cover art and/or internal illustrations. I'm a graphic designer and illustrator - it is not unusual for me to buy a book based solely on the cover. In fact, I bought "Outcast" because I love Brian Smith's illos!

So yes, as a reader, some of Shane's comments definitely do apply to me and how I do my anthology buying.

As a Writer:
I don't write for any specific themes. I write whatever comes out the end of the pen. Generally, I have a story to tell and I don't give a damn if it has a genre or a theme or whether it will fit some market or other. I just write the story that I have to tell.

When the story is finished, I try and find a market for it. I don't think many of my longer stories are very conventional, and thus they can be hard to place. If a story fits a 'Themed Anthology' great! If not, will it fit a more general anthology market such as Agog or Shadow Plays or Macabre?

If it doesn't fit any of the anthologies I'll try ASIM, Aurealis or Dark Animus.

So, as a writer... the more anthologies there are out there the better it is for me. Sure, I'd rather submit to something that has some great names already committed to it - being in auguste company is one of the joys of being published - but the story will go to where it is most likely to find a home regardless of much else. If the story doesn't fit the submission guidelines it doesn't matter one little bit who's in it, or who's editing it... well, it does, we all try to avoid the dodgy markets but I don't think any Australian small press could be classed that way at this point in time. All we have is a lot of quality outlets for Australian Spec Fic writers and that can only be an excellent thing for introducing and nurturing new talent.

I guess I'm just saying that, if we all separate our 'Reader' and 'Writer' hats, we will probably get a much more objective view of what Shane seems to have been trying to say.

From a purely commercial point of view he's right! But do Small Presses in Australia expect to make a fortune from publishing an anthology? I doubt it. Nobody in their right mind would do this for commercial gain - 'commercial loss' is the norm in the industry - but we all do it anyway.

For readers on limited budgets, he's right! We have to choose somehow and all the things he mentions generally come into the equation.

But for writers, the quality and committment to small press anthologies in Australia is a great thing. I don't care how many there are. Bring 'em on! The more markets there are to submit to, the more chance I have of getting my stories in front of some sympathetic reader. As a writer, that's all I want.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Conflux Artshow - Shortlist voting done!

I have just finished, in the very nick of time, my voting commitments for this year's Conflux Artshow shortlist. All I can say is - Wow!

There was an absolutely amazing bunch of art submitted this year. The categories - Student, Comic, Manga, Digital and the overarching Australia and International - were packed with entries. It was extremely difficult to allocate the votes we were given.

It will be really interesting to see how the voting tally's with the other judges' votes. I'm looking forward to walking around the artshow when I get to Canberra. I can assure you that this is going to be a real visual feast!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Rain Never Came

Well, three days since I returned from Conjure and I still haven't blogged the weekend! I will, tonight, but for now I thought I'd post this poem... as I can't think of anyone else who'd want it :)

The rain never came.
They said it would,
and day after day,
we waited.

A change was expected,
late in the evening, they said.

We sat up late,
breathing in the heat.
Even the cicadas
sounded parched.

Tomorrow, they said.
Surely, it will come tomorrow.

Day after day
the sun beats down
and grasses turn
to straw

The earth turns too,
slowly, cracking, drying.

Time here is measured
by the ever rising count
of corpses
in the paddock.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Sale! - Shadowplays line-up announced

Well, I've definitely been pretty slack on the updates. A month and a half without a post!

The author line-up for the Shadowplays anthology ( has just been announced and I'm very happy to say they have accepted my steampunk story "Calliope: A Steam Romance" for publication! Wahoo!

This is really great as it is my first acceptance, and the first publication I sent Cally out to. I've only ever sent out 4 of my stories and 3 have come back with rejections - not bad ones mind you, but nevertheless. So to have Calliope snatched up on first submission (and I never do much editing after the first draft either!) is really encouraging.

The full author line-up for Shadowplays is as follows:
  • Ashley Arnold
  • Brendan Carson
  • Sarah Drummond
  • D.H. Duperouzel
  • Richard Harland
  • E.J. Hayes
  • Ren Holton
  • George Ivanoff
  • Penelope Love
  • Andrew McKiernan
  • Robert J. Santa
  • Nigel Stones
Publication of Shadowplays is expected in August/September of this year, so keep your eye on the website for updates:

Shadowplays (

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Blast from the Past - Emily's Child

Happy Summer Solstice everyone!

Back in the very early 90s I was in a band called Emily's Child.

We had fun, played around the inner-city pubs (when the Sydney music scene was still vibrant and not yet invaded by poker machines), recorded a few songs... and then, after 4yrs, I left. Numerous were the reasons but; I left, the band stuck together for a few months, and then that was it.

The strange thing was:

The day I announced I was leaving at rehearsal I left in my car and drove home. I was a bit sad but it was something I had to do. The rest of the band understood and said they'd try and keep going for a while. On my way home what should TripleJ decided to play but one of our songs!

They played a songs called Umbrella Dreaming from the Streetwise compilation album. I'd never heard one of our songs on the radio! I was shocked, amazed, excited and, ummm.... no longer in the band! I almost turned around right there and then, to beg to be let back in, but I didn't the time was over :(

We had GREAT fun though :)

Anyway, to get to the crux of this post.

The other day I was looking through some old boxes and found

a) a copy of the Streetwise compilation CD with two of our songs on it (from 1992), and

b) an old demo tape we recorded with three songs that were even older (about 1990, I think).

So, I turned them into MP3s and decided to post them. I'm not sure if any of the other guys are still around. If they are, and they want me to take these files down, that's fine... just get in contact and let me know! Would be great to have a beer with you guys again.

The recordings aren't exactly great, but I still enjoy listening to the songs. I think, considering they're almost 15 yrs old, they hold up pretty well.

Oh, and that's me playing all the guitars (at least 2 on each track, but not at once!). So here they are, for your listening pleasure. Happy Solstice!

Emily's Child 1990 demo tape [mp3 format]

  • Suit of Skin - (Inglis, Cadogan, McKiernan, McDonald)

  • Rhyme - (Inglis, Cadogan, McKiernan, McDonald)

  • Warehouse - (Inglis, Cadogan, McKiernan, McDonald)

Emily's Child (from Streetwise Compilation 1992) [mp3 format]

More Cobweb

Click on an image for a larger view

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cobweb Arrives at Forever

Meet Cobweb.

She arrived last night in a box my wife had carried on a train all the way from Paddington.

She was pretty scared when she arrived at our house, especially with two wild and excited boys running around the place, but she seems to be settling in quite well already. She slept in the drawer of Kylie's wardrobe last night, despite having a beautiful basket of her own. She has spent most of today curled up in my lap, asleep, while I work. She's very warm, and her claws are very sharp. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Nice Rejection

Aurealis passed on my short story The Memory of Water today. I thought the reader's comments in the rejection were okay though;

"A nice urban fantasy with a mythic feel. I think the description is overdone in places and it has more of a literary edge - perhaps not quite fantastic enough for us?"
Apart from the "overdone description" (which I, Mr.Purple prose, would never do) this is a pretty heartening rejection. Urban Fantasy, mythic feel, a literary edge! I'm happy with that.

I think I just need to find the right market for this one. So I'm gonna get rid of some of the description and send it out again... but to where? I have no idea as yet.

Calliope: A Steam Romance, one of my other recently completed short stories, is a steampunk story set in Sydney circa an alternate 1910. It seems that in this case my purple prose has come in handy. These comments recently came from a writer's group I'm part of:

"Where did you find the energy to write in this style? It suits the period of the piece perfectly, but it must have been like trying to write in Shakespearean English. Any longer and I would have been too exhausted just reading it. How many times did you have to read Martin Eden to master it?"
Well, I have no idea who Martin Eden is, and the story is supposed to be exhausting... it is for the narrator at least, so I'm happy with that too :)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Quick Update

Been too busy to post lately, with multiple stimulating and creative projects occupying my time. Thought I'd pop in and post a quick update, just so everyone knows I'm still kickin'.
  1. I resigned from my position with a web design agency [whom I will not name] due to too many differences in opinion on; Project Scoping, Technical Specs, getting a client to sign off before starting work on a project, and continually changing a project once it started. Whew!
  2. I'm now freelancing web development, graphic design and illustration through my own business Kephra Design, and having a bit of success at it too :)
  3. Issue #36 of Aurealis is finally done and on its way to the printers! It is a damn good issue too. New editors Robert Hoge and Ben Payne have done an excellent job with the stories and the illustrators came through with some of the best artwork I've seen in an issue of Aurealis. Shane Parker's cover is great, a real old-style Analog/Asimov type cover... exactly what I wanted! Hopefully I can get an image of the new cover up in a day or two.
  4. I'm now an Associate Editor over at HorrorScope, the new Australian Horror and Dark Fantasy news and reviews site, founded by Shane Jiraiya Cummings. This is a great gig, working with some really astute reviewers. My job is to review Ticonderoga Online, when each issue is released (I've already reviewed two issues), as well as any HarperCollins Voyager releases that fit into the Dark Fantasy area.
  5. I interviewed Karen Miller, author of Innocent Mage the other week for HorrorScope and have just finished transcribing the interview (Geez we can talk!). I hope to have it edited into a readable form by the beginning of next week. I'll let you know when the interview, and my review of Innocent Mage, is posted. It's a really great book too :)
  6. I'm doing some illustrations for Jonathan Maberry's new book on monsters on mythology. Jonathan is the author of the highly successful Vampire Slayer's Field Guide to the Undead. So far he's accepted a black and white version of my Gryphon, and I've got a Goblin, an Ogre, a lake-monster, a Yeti and a were-spider still to finish off.
  7. I finished "Henrietta the Tropical Dragon", a mascot for Tropical Dragon Editing & Proof-reading Services. You can see Henrietta here or, seen here relaxing under a palm tree.
  8. I've just completed reworking the website of Digital Experience Solutions to be HTML compliant. This should be the first step on getting them noticed by Google, who couldn't read the site at all previously because of its reliance on Frames and JavaScript.
  9. I've been doing some work for the wonderful Fiona over at Speculate. This has included some web development work, but more exciting is that there is also some design work to be had. The first piece was a simple banner for author Jennifer Fallon's new webstore. Nothing much, but it is good to be designing something again :)

On top of all this my Muse has seen fit to return! Why does she always feel the need to visit when I've got lots of work on but never during the dull periods?

I haven't completed any of the stories I was writing previously but three brand new stories popped out of the blue! Each was inspired by "Story Challenge" posts on the the Voyageronline site.

1st came "Sealed With a Kiss": A 2,800 word horror story. I'd had the idea for many years, all it needed was a little push from the PurpleZone Challenge! I've sent it off to Dark Animus, but it has been a couple of months now and I've yet to hear anything. James is normally quick with rejections, so I'm not sure if that's a good sign or a bad one.

Next, the most interesting one. The challenge was to write a Steampunk story, no other restrictions. I had one idea and was just about to start... when another idea popped into my head. And thus "Calliope: A Steam Romance" was born. At almost 10,000 words it is a whopper, but I'm really happy with how it came out. Maybe it doesn't have to be that long, but it works the way it is (even after multiple edits) and I'm happy to leave it. I'm thinking of sending this one off to Shadowplays first and see how it goes. If it doesn't pass muster there I think Cat Sparks' Agog! Ripping Reads anthology might be a logical place... or maybe Borderlands, who knows.

The latest was inspired by a "Fractured Fairy Tale" challenge. It's still in progress so I won't say much about it except the title; "Trip, Trap". So far having fun :)

So, that's it. Lot's of things happening, so I'd better get back to it! Bye'd Bye!

Monday, August 01, 2005

HL2 Game Addiction

I finally bought a new PC! It has been a long time coming and the old beast (an AMD K6-2 400 Mhz) had certainly given more than it was originally worth. But, because my old PC was so slow, I hadn't been able to play any games for a couple of years.

This was both a blessing and a curse. A curse: because I used to like gaming on my PC; Doom and Quake hold especially fond memories. A blessing: because I couldn't spend hours in game-land and I actually had a few years of getting some work done!

But now... AMD Athlon XP 3000+ with 1GB of RAM, there isn't really a game out there I can't play!

And so, I went out and picked up a copy of Half Life 2, because I remember really enjoying the first one; very immersive.

Well, I'm now addicted! What an amazing game. I barely saw the light of day for a week whilst I played that thing (which is why this blog hasn't been updated in ages).

The graphics are damn good, but it is really the Half Life world and engine itself that makes the game so impressive. You can interact with almost anything in the game; pick up rubbish and throw it around... or put it in the trash - throw and smash tables and chairs - drive vehicles and operate machinery. The physics are great and everything looks and moves the way it should.

The storyline is pretty good too and the whole experience is more like a block-buster movie than a game. It is fast-paced, atmospheric and very scary!

So, that's where I have been for the last couple of weeks... saving the earth! And all I've got to show for it is a bad case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Lots of new images at Kephra Design

I've added a batch of new images to the galleries of the Kephra Design website.

Firstly, there are some images of a Gryphon I've been working on for a canvas and acrylic painting. The Gryphon was hand-drawn with pencil on paper. I then scanned it in and the resulting images and started playing around in Photoshop.

One image is an attempt to create something that looked like an old manuscript drawing.

The other is the beginning of the composition for the painting (just trying to get some idea of colours and shading).

You can view the Gryphon images in the Illustration Gallery.

I have also added a new section to the Kephra Design Gallery entitled Maps.

There I have placed a selection of maps I am working on for a fantasy novel. The map is of an entire planet that is around 36,000 kilometers diameter at the equator. There is a detail version, one showing ocean currents, and one showing my rather unscientific Plate Tectonics for the world. I've still got a lot of work to do with these maps.

Much thanks is due to "Maestro Mapboy" Russell Kirkpatrick, who has helped me an immense amount with this map. If it wasn't for Russell's assistance rivers would be running backwards, mountain ranges would be all over the place, and this map would be nowhere near as 'plausible' as it is (except the tectonics, that is).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Back from Conflux

Wow! What a great time I had in Canberra!

When I first arrived on Friday night for the opening, and the launch of Kaaron Warren's excellent The Grinding House the hotel conference rooms were packed. I'm not a great one for socialising in crowds, I'm more of a one-on-one conversation guy, and it was all very overwhelming at first. There were so many people chatting and laughing, and I knew none of them! Well, that's not true, I did know quite a few of them, but only through the internet. I had never met any of them in person. Nevertheless, I became a wallflower, retreating to the darkest corner and trying to become invisible to all.

Luckily my psychic-invisibility spell did not work and the wonderful Donna Hanson (Chair of Conflux 2005, editor, and owner of the Australian Speculative Fiction website) found me and starting introducing me to those I knew but had never met.

Ella, Mel, Mirren and Emma all looked after me from the start, and I owe them lots of thanks for making me feel so welcome. I had lots of time to talk with Richard Harland, Keith Stevenson and Cat Sparks (all of whom I have worked with for Aurealis magazine) and had a good chat with Zara Baxter of the Andromeda Spaceways Co-Op.

But mainly I hung out with the Purple Zone ( crowd - Ella, Mel, Mirren, Emma, Jenny Fallon, Trudi Canavan, and Russell Kirkpatrick. I've been a member of the Voyager Online message board for the past 4years and it is a wonderful online community. It was really good to put faces to the names of people I have been chatting with for so long.

From that point on, I had a blast! The discussion panels were great, and most of them topically interesting and useful for up-and-coming authors. The Trade Room was a great place to hang out and chat with just about anyone who's anyone in Australian speculative fiction.

One night I found myself standing at the bar (as you do at Cons) waiting, and waiting, and waiting to be served. The guy beside me seemed to be getting just as annoyed as I was and so, a conversation on the lack of service ensued. We made our introductions only to discover I was talking to author and editor Shane Jiraiya Cummings, whose story "Sobek's Tears" I had illustrated for Aurealis #33-35. I think it was a bit strange for both of us, but we seemed to get on really well. I had some great conversations with Shane and Angela Challis, who both edit the excellent Shadowed Realms ( online Flash fiction magazine.

Angela was even able to use her persuasive powers to coax me out onto the Dancefloor, an event unheard of for almost a decade! Me! Dancing! Shane attempted to take some photos to immortalise the moment but, alas, the light was dim, it was an unfamilar camera, and the results all show me in horribly distorted poses that are rumoured to resemble Dancing only according to some previously unknown definition of the word. Hence, you will not be seeing those photos anytime soon!

All-in-all, I discovered that Australia has a very talented and extremely friendly Speculative Fiction community that I am really happy to be a part of. Although this was my first Con I have a feeling that it definitely won't be my last.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Off to Conflux!

Well, the family and I are off to Conflux 2 in Canberra. My first Con! Should be lots of fun! :)

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Defensive Fantasist

I posted a link to the article by Charlie Stross on "Five rules for cold-bloodedly designing a fantasy series" (see previous post) to a Message Board I have been a member for a number of years. The Message Board is a busy one, and primarily frequented by readers and writers of Fantasy fiction.

I thought that posting the link might be useful to many of the aspiring writers on the list.

Instead, it seemed to be taken a totally different way!

There were comments such as:

...[I am] disturbed by someone writing fantasy who doesn't like it...

What a cynical person!...And how can you be so cold-blooded about Fantasy?

My god, a fantasy writer who doesn't like fantasy.... Now there’s a concept to restore one's faith in the genre.

My gut feeling is that it's a mistake to write in a genre that you have no personal enthusiasm for.

I don't believe he should be writing fantasy if he actually does not enjoy the genre.

if I was an agent I wouldn't go near something if the author presented himself to be unenthusiastic and just doing it because he believes he can - whether it's good fantasy or not.

Wow, I had no idea they would get so defensive! I personally think they took the article the wrong way, which leads me to a few observations:
  1. Charlie Stross never says that he doesn't like fantasy. In fact in a number of other posts on his blog he mentions his first fiction love being Fantasy and that all he ever read as a teenager was SF and Fantasy.
  2. He states "I've read a lot of extruded fantasy product in my time -- and I don't much like it" and "While there's nothing intrinsically wrong with Fantasy, the marketing mechanism applied to it tends to promote those aspects of it that I really don't like".
  3. He just finished the 'fantasy' novel he speaks of (The Family Trade) and it is getting some amazing reviews. Apparently it is great, original, and people are already looking forward to the sequels. Do you think you could write a novel at all if you were not enthusiastic about it?
To me, this also highlights a difference I have noticed between readers of Fantasy and readers of Science Fiction (and please take this as a gross generalisation of the circles I move in, not a caveat against all fantasy readers):

Go up to someone reading a Science Fiction book and say "I think Science Fiction is childish crap with little literary merit" and they are most likely to answer: "yeah, well, so what, I enjoy it".

Say the same thing about Fantasy reader and you will probably get an answer that is a lot more defensive of the genre (see the comments above).

I've seen lots of mentions (on the internet in blogs and message boards, at talks, and panels, and cons) that "Fantasy is a Dying Genre", despite the fact that our bookshop shelves are teeming with new titles and new authors.

"Fantasy is a Dying Genre" is probably a really bad way to put it because that is not what they really mean. They mean that it is dying because it is collapsing under its own marketing weight! There are so many generic-Tolkien-clone-multi-series-fantasy-epics (what Stross calls "extruded fantasy") filling the shelves that it is becoming tough to find something new, original AND well-written.

The fantasy genre has become like fast food - you know what it is going to taste like; you know it has the same ingredients no matter where you go; it is safe, comfort food. But who can eat McDonald's every night of the week without getting bored (or even sick) from it eventually?

That, I think, is the true fear of those who take the "Fantasy is dying" line.

For sure, there are some really amazing new fantasy authors out there really pushing the envelope and showing us that you don't need elves, dwarves and dragons to make a good Fantasy: China Miéville, KJ Bishop, Jeff Vandermeer, Steven Erikson to name but a few. But to find the gold amongst the dross can be a daunting, and off-putting task. It is a shame that many become disillusioned with the genre before they find these authors.

I turned off Fantasy when the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms tie-ins started flooding the shelves. It took me a long time to get back into it again but the above authors all restored my faith in the originality of the fantastic.

Why then do Fantasy readers often seem so defensive about this line of reasoning? Why do they cry foul about this when in almost the same breath they can whinge about the time it is taking Robert Jordon to finish a series that should have ended volumes ago? I have no idea. It baffles me. If anyone has thoughts on this feel free to let me know (as I am sure you will).

Charlie's Fantasy Rules

Charles Stross, author of the excellent "Singularity Sky" and "The Atrocity Archives" recently posted an article on his diary entitled: Five rules for cold-bloodedly designing a fantasy series.

He goes into the details of the process he went through to plot and plan his next work (a fantasy, not SF). I was quite fascinated by this as I have recently gone through a similar process just before reading his blog. His process is almost identical to the one I used.

I have almost finished a 200,000 word SF-Space Opera novel. It has taken me over 5 years to write and I'm quite happy with the results. Will it ever get published? Maybe, but given the ratio of fantasy to SF being published, probably not.

So, I thought: I'd have more chance getting published if I wrote a decent fantasy.

Normally I don't write fantasy (as such), I write SF and Horror and possibly Dark-Fantasy and Magic Realism. I never thought I would ever attempt to write a "fantasy" novel because I don't like much of what is currently on the shelf and I have drifted away from it.

For my process I thought:

a) What sort of fantasy do I enjoy? And I love old style "Sword and Sorcery" stuff, of which there is not much of these days. I would write an old-style swashbuckling Sword and Sorcery adventure. I also love "Dying Earth" type stories (Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith etc) that are set on thousands of years in the future: the sun is dying, earth is a barren wasteland reverted to barbarism and filled with remnants of Strange Science largely indistinguishable from Magick.
b) What authors do I like who wrote this stuff? And yes, they were all already dead:
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs - Tarzan, John Carter of Mars
  • Robert E Howard - creator of Conan, amongst others
  • Clark Ashton Smith - Lovecraftian horror and fantasy, although I feel Smith is far superior to Lovecraft.
  • William Hope Hodgeson - The Night Lands, House on the Borderlands
I would use all these guys as influences. Combine all the above, shake them, stir them, and see what comes out.

In the end I am really enthusiastic about what I came up with and found the sort of fantasy story that I'd not only want to read, but want to write too! No elves, no dwarves (or dwarfs if you are that way inclined). No dragons. Instead: anthropomorphs, flying machines, automata.

In the end, I'm writing something I never thought I would write - a fantasy! And I'm loving it!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife - by Audrey Niffenegger (A Mini Review).

Beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful, uplifting. If you have a soul that is not numb to this world you will cherish this book. If your soul is numb to the world, this book will wake you up, revitalise you, and show you that Love is an amazing thing worth holding and keeping in your heart.

I shouldn't have read the end on the train this morning without a kleenex handy though. Everyone was staring at the grown man weeping in his seat.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Rejection Time

Nothing new for me, but my short story How Does Your Garden Grow was rejected by Dark Animus today :-(

I knew it probably wouldn't get in before I even sent it for a couple of reasons;
  • The only genre the story fits in is Horror, but it is not really too horrific, and none too scary. More an old-style 30s or 40s horror, if anything. It was inspired by a Clark Ashton Smith story, but not similar in style.
  • James, the Dark Animus editor, hates stories in Present Tense. I can understand this, some of them are attrocious, but this story doesn't seem to work any other way.
Anyway, back to the submission process for this one.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Fantasy Planes

I found this site today: Fantasy Planes - filled with great images of flying-craft that never were. I've always been fascinated by man's attempts at flight, especially those Victorian and early 20th Century contraptions that imagined the future. I have to agree with the site's owner that:
"...the most interesting airplanes are the ones that never got built."

Take for instance the Bel Geddes Airliner #4 - first proposed in 1929 Airliner #4 had a crew of 155, and sleeping berths for 606 passengers! Its wingspan was a massive 528 feet, 2 and a half times the width of a Boeing 747. Transatlantic plane flights would have taken 72 hours and been as cofortable as a cruise ship, which took a week for the same journey.

The Burnelli UB-14 [pictured] was designed for Clyde Pangborn to "race, nonstop around the world", refueling in the air "and without touching foreign soil, arrive back at his starting point and drop his wheels on the same American runway from which he takes off."

But my favourites have to be those of comic-book artist Harry Grant Dart. In the early 1900s he was imagining amazing air-battles that prefigured (and eclipsed) those later to be seen in World War I. Images such as Going Into Action [Harpers Weekly, 1907], and The Vampires [Harpers Weekly, 1910] depict vast flotilla of air and sea-craft battling it out in what looks almost like a modern Space Opera War between battlecruisers.

Very inspiring stuff for my writing at the moment :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

What's With TOR Paperbacks?

I've just finished reading Scott Westerfeld's Succession duology, Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds. I read them both in paperback, published by TOR in the US, and I wasn't exactly happy with the quality of the typesetting.

Both books in the series were filled with typographical errors and obvious bad spell-checking. You know those words that are real words, and so aren't picked up in a spell-check, but are horribly out of context in the wrong place? Lots of those.

But the worst problem seemed to be the hyphenation! It was all over the place. In the middle of sentences that were nowhere near a line-end or page-end. Words such as reconstructions with the "re-" bit on the last line of a page and then "constructions" on the next page... haven't they heard of kerning!? They could have easily spaced the last line a little more and forced the entire word onto the next page, improving readability.

I noticed this problem previously with John C.Wright's Golden Age trilogy, also from TOR, and probably the best SF I have read in many years. Those texts were also a mess.

This has very little to do with the author. I enjoyed both authors very much, but it looks sloppy. It indicates a lack of care in production that I think it is insulting to the author. Or maybe it is just laziness on the part of TOR's editors?

I hope they improve the quality of their paperbacks soon, because they have some really great authors. I'd hate to not enjoy an author because an Editor can't be bothered to do their job well.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Master of Disgust

Salon has posted an article "The Master of Disgust" on H.P.Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, discussing the two opposing camps whose views have grown up around his work: those who think Lovecraft was a "hack"; and those who champion him as an artist of "philosophical and literary substance".

I love Lovecraft, having first read most of his stuff when I was about thirteen, but I don't strictly belong in either camp. I do think he was a bit of a hack, just a bit, but in a great way! Like how old Godzilla movies, or an Ed Wood film, are really bad but all the better because of it! They go beyond bad and into genius.

Robert E.Howard, creator of Conan, was a bit of hack, but I love his work too! Like Lovecraft's work, it has a darkness and an urgency that surpasses its over-weighted use of adjectives, implausible plot lines and clichéd characterisation.

There is more to Lovecraft than purple prose and, although it might not be scary, it has had an enormous influence on both the Horror and Science Fiction genres, in print and screen.

(But Clark Ashton Smith... now there was a writer!)

I love my Cthulhu creatures; I love the over-written descriptions of things that cannot be described; I love the places writers such as Stephen King, Ramsay Campbell and Charlie Stross have taken the style and ideas of Lovecraft. I love the fact that we can laugh at the tentacled horror we call Cthulhu (now available as a plush toy).

Maybe that was Cthulhu's plan all along? Get us to love his, worship him as a plush toy, an action figure, a film, an auto-biography even? It would make it so much easier to take over the world if we already love him :)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

How Much Do SF and Fantasy Writers Earn?

Tobias S. Buckell is a Science Fiction author (2002 John W. Campbell Award Nominee, and Winner of the 1999 Writer's of the Future Contest) whose first novel is due soon.

He recently conducted a survey of 75 published SF&F authors to discover how much they earned from their labours. The results are quite fascinating, and nowhere near as low as I expected it to be. If you want to be published, and maybe even make a living from your writing this is a great article, with lots of tips.

Go ahead and give it a read: "How Much Does a Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer Make?".

Sunday, February 06, 2005

I Just Don't Get It

I just finished reading Jon Courtenay Grimwood's lastest novel "Stamping Butterflies". I found that this book has a lot in common with M.John Harrison's recent return to SF "Light".

They both have multiple plot strands (past, present, near-future and far-future) that interweave throughout. They both concern the science of Quantum Physics, especially as it relates to Chaos Theory and the Uncertainty Principle. They both involve the discovery of Faster-That-Light (FTL) drives that allow man to spread out of this tiny corner of the galaxy that we call the Solar-system and colonise the stars. They are both exceedingly well written.

But for me, the main thing they have in common is: I Just Don't Get It!

I've read Light twice now, but in the end I just don't understand what went on. I enjoyed the ride. I loved the imagery that Harrison's skill with language invoked. I appreciate the beauty of it all and the characterisation, and the hard-SF ideas, and, and.... there is a lot I could go on about, I did actually enjoy much of it, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what it was all about.

Stamping Butterflies had exactly the same effect on me. I enjoyed each individual plot strand of the story. I followed each plot strand quite well, I thought. Some of the Marrakech scenes were really written, bringing strong images of Marrakech to me as I read. But I just can't work out how each strand weaves together to give me the whole!

Maybe I'm just the sort of person one reviewer on Amazon was talking about when he mentions in relation to Light:
Only the shallow reader who isn't prepared to dirty themselves in the muddy
waters of empathy will not get the point of this novel.

"The muddy waters of empathy"!? Please, that's just too much! I have always thoroughly immersed myself in my books (just ask my wife) and am no stranger to those muddy waters. I just think that with these two books the authors have tried too hard to be mysterious. Tried too hard at hiding a message, because the fact is, I know they mean something... I just don't know what!

I'll probably read Stamping Butterflies again one day, I'll probably read Light again too. Maybe, if I keep reading them over and over, one day the penny will drop and I'll let out a big, satisfied Aha! of understanding.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Anthrpomorphic Portraits

George Underwood is an artist and illustrator, probably best known for album covers such as David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" as well as covers for T-Rex, Mott the Hoople and Procul Harum (all great late 60s musicians). He has also done a few Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror book covers in his time (covers for Greg Bear, Brian Lumley and Michael Moorcock).

What I like best about his work though are his "Anthropomorphic Portraits" - traditional style portraits of dogs, cats, birds and lions dressed in late Victorian and early 20th Century finery. They are all quite eerie, but I would love to own one of two to place above the mantlepiece: especially Dr.Schnauzer and Self Portrait.

These are the sort of characters I had in mind when I named this blog, and how many of the characters might appear in the novel I am just starting to write.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

On the writing desk

As this blog is an attempt to get me to write more often and more regularly I thought I would jot down the current writing projects I have lined up in front of me:

How Does Your Garden Grow - [Short story - COMPLETE] A pulpy-horror story inspired years ago by Clark Ashton Smith's short story The Garden of Adompha. This one is done, reworked, edited and is currently out in circulation looking for a home amongst the horror fiction magazines.

The Memory of Water - [Short story - RE-EDIT] Not horror, not SF, not fantasy, possibly (just maybe) Magic Realism - but who knows with all these sub-genres these days? It definitely has some weird elements to it, but probably not as strange as what I would normally write. I'm quite happy with this story but know, from an initial editing by a well-respected professional, that it needs a little work. I hope to tidy this one up over the next few days: tightening the tension, less telling, more showing, all that sort of stuff. And then send it off into the wide-world and wait for the rejections to come in like postcards from a far off land.

Work Like the Dead - [Short story - 50% COMPLETE] Oh no! Not another zombie story! Yeah, I suppose it is, but quite different, owing more to stories like Dale Bailey's The Anencephalic Fields or Death and Suffrage than George Romero or Lucio Fulci's Zombie genre. I'm enjoying writing this one, although sometimes getting it to read the way I want it to has been as painful as pulling teeth with pliers.

The Darkling Crowd - [Short story - 20% COMPLETE] Inspired by a line from a poem by Aleister Crowley and the "Paranormal Phenomena" of Shadow People. Still a way to go on this one, especially considering I just ditched half the story because it was waffle. I think I'm on the right track now though.

Saving for Elysium - [Short story - 20% COMPLETE] The tale of an After-Life Insurance Salesman, his dead mother's pleas for a better heaven, and the steps he takes to 'get away from it all'.

The House of the Golden Gryphon - [Novel - RESEARCH STAGE] This is the one with the McKenzie's Guides in it, inspired by the dream mentioned in my first post. With the help of my wife [who asks LOTS of questions] I was able to flesh this dream out into quite a good novel idea (or at least I thought so). Swords, Sorcery and Strange Science; that's about as much as I can tell you about this one at the moment, but I'm enjoying all the research into Victoriana, automata, population demographics and even some planetary physics. Hooray for the internet!

Wow! That's a lot for me to work through. Better get back to it I suppose.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

What's in a name?

My decision to start a blog, like most of my decisions, was rash and impulsive. I wanted somewhere, other than my business website, to keep my family and friends informed of what I was up to. I wanted something that would (possibly) force me to write a little more; discipline me to a daily routine of writing in my journal. And so...

I started a blog! I hear that everyone is doing it these days.

I joined, filled in all the forms, and then got to the field that said: 'Title'. My mind went blank. I couldn't think of a thing... or at least nothing that wasn't cheap, tacky, clichéd, banal or trite. I decided that I hadn't thought this through very well and left the screen open whilst I went back to writing my latest story.

It took me a while to notice it while I was writing but, there it was, right in front of me! Mysterious, obscure, suggestive, and just plain strange! It was exactly the sort of title I was looking for.

But where did it come from?

Shall I explain? [As long as you don't bore me, I hear you say]

A few months ago, I had a rather strange dream. I can't say too much, as that dream has now become the basis for my current major writing project, but...

In the dream: I awake inside an old Victorian-style mansion - in a basement filled with cast iron gears turning, and steam pistons and boilers jetting warm vapours into the darkness. I walk up and out of the basement, not really knowing who I am, or where I am. I wander long deserted halls lined with locked doors and flickering gas lamps. I turn one brass door-knob after another, working my way further and further through the house.

Eventually I find an open room, and there is a desk, all polished mahogany and curlicued brass fittings. On the desk are a small pile of books resting on a leather edged blotter. I look at the titles of the books and they are:
McKenzie's Manual of Anthropomorphic Configurations
McKenzie's Guide to Automata Repair
McKenzie's Little Book of Etiquette for Modern Men and Women

There was a bit more to the dream, not much, but enough for me to extrapolate a rather neat idea for a novel!

In the dream, I didn't really look through the books either - or at least I don't remember doing so. The titles intrigued me though. I'm still not quite sure how one of those titles relates to what I'm going to do with this space, but it was better than anything else I could come up with!

I guess the contents of any of those books would be a little like "The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases", which I picked up the other day and am enjoying. I think the McKenzie's line of books are a little less-satirical, though. The sort of thing you would expect to find in an old magazine like The Strand; invoking images of late-Victorian pseudo-science and rollicking adventures of derring-do; lino-cut engravings of men (or in this case anthropomorphs) in Saville Row suits and bowler hats on bulldog heads; women with wide skirts and elaborate lace parasols hiding their soft kitten faces from the sun.

I think that the sort of things I will be musing on here will be as ecclectic and numerous as the configurations of anthropomorphs in McKenzie's Guide. I'll write on my art, my writing, on what I'm reading and what I'm listening to. I might comment on a movie I see, or politics, or the strange beast we call humanity. Sometimes I'll probably just vent my woes and proclaim my joys. And like any good follower [read: mad scientist] of McKenzie's Guide, I'll probably mix it all up a bit, just to see what happens.

So, that's the tale of the title, and the end of my first post. Now let's see how regularly I can discipline myself to update this thing!