Galactic Chats, Zombie Signings and Emerging Writers

Galactic Chat

While I was over in Perth at SwanCon, Alisa Krasnostein interviewed me for Galactic Chat, the sister podcast of Galactic Suburbia. The Chat podcast is an ongoing series of lengthy interviews with Australian authors and it’s well worth catching up on if you’re not already a regular listener. My interview is now available for downloading or streaming here. It runs for about half an hour wherein I talk about various writing-related matters including my novel, Madigan Mine, how writing a story can be likened to making a patchwork quilt, and why the imperfect truly is beautiful.

If you’re in Melbourne this weekend, get your zombie on and stumble along to Dymocks Southland on Saturday 28 May to celebrate International Zombie Awareness Month with author signings and a zombie shuffle! The timetable for the day will be:

11am-12 noon: Local horror authors Kirstyn McDermott (Madigan Mine) and Bob Franklin (Under Stones) will be signing copies of their books. Be afraid!

12 noon-1pm: Bestselling author James Phelan will be signing copies of his YA zombie novel Alone #1: Chasers (plus copies of his adult thrillers!).

1-2pm: ‘The Walking Dead’ Zombie Shuffle! Turn up to Dymocks Southland in full zombie costume for your chance to win a fantastic The Walking Dead prize-pack (courtesy of our friends at Madman Entertainment). Best costume wins, prizewinner announced 2pm.

Also in Melbourne, the Emerging Writers Festival starts tomorrow with a plethora of panels, conference, launches and other literary delights. I’ll be appearing on a panel next Tuesday evening to chat about speculative fiction with Alison Croggon, Paul Haines and Rjurik Davidson. Here’s the nitty-gritty:

Get Into Genre: Spec Fic
6:00 PM, Tuesday 31 May 2011
The Wheeler Centre — 176 Little Lonsdale Street

We all know genre rocks, right? For writers and lovers of fiction, Get Into Genre is an opportunity to hear from our sepculative fiction writers and industry professionals. Our panellists discuss how they got started in their writing field, and the challenges and opportunities of their writing forms. All sessions are interactive, so you can ask the questions you want answers to.

Aurealis Awards 2010

Aurealis Award 2010

The Aurealis Awards were announced in a glittery — and, at times, shoeless — ceremony in North Sydney on Saturday night and I was absolutely thrilled that Madigan Mine won Best Horror Novel. So thrilled that the just-in-case list of names I’d been intermittently rehearsing all day flew out of my head and the first thing I managed to say after been handed the award by the inimitable Kaaron Warren was, “Wow, it’s heavy.” In my defence, it is quite heavy. It’s also very, very pretty. 🙂

But I did manage to thank everyone I needed to thank and surprised myself by becoming just a wee bit emotional up there on the stage. I’m really, really grateful to receive this particular award. Madigan Mine took so long to go from initial spark of inspiration to final publication — a time which spanned some very difficult years in my life, personally and creatively — and to be awarded the Aurealis at the end of all that … well, I am so very happy right now.

It truly was a fantastic night. SpecFaction in Sydney have taken over the running of the Aurealis Award from Fantastic Queensland — who did an extraordinary job of hosting them up in Brisbane for the past six years — and it was wonderful to see the baton passed to such and enthusiastic and hard-working team. Nathan Burrage, Susan Wardle and the rest of the organising committee deserve huge kudos for putting on such a great show. Highlights included Garth Nix‘s dry humour as MC, Rob Hood‘s quirky visual presentation slideshows, the divine Angela Slatter accepting not one but two awards in bare feet, and Tansy Rayner Roberts gracious and moving  — and well-prepared! — acceptance speech upon receiving the award for Best Fantasy novel.

Wine was drunk, carousing was had, old friends were caught up with and new friends were made. It reminded me once again how special, close-knit and supportive the Australian speculative fiction community really is. As I possibly failed to articulate clearly enough in my acceptance speech, I feel proud and honoured and so very grateful to be able to count myself among their number.

As has become customary on such occasions, the multi-talented Cat Sparx was on hand with her trusty camera to provide a superb pictorial chronicle of the evening. The full set lives over on Flickr but I want to include this photo of myself and my beloved, Jason Nahrung, right here. (Thanks, Cat — you always take the best photos of us!)

Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung at 2010 Aurealis Awards

2010 AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS:

CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through words)
• The Keepers, Lian Tanner, Allen & nwin

CHILDREN’S FICTION (told primarily through pictures)
• The Boy and the Toy, Sonya Hartnett (writer) & Lucia Masciullo (illustrator), Penguin Viking

YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY
• A Thousand Flowers, Margo Lanagan, Zombies and Unicorns, Allen & Unwin

YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
• Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey, Allen & Unwin

ILLUSTRATED BOOK/ GRAPHIC NOVEL
• Changing Ways Book 1, Justin Randall, Gestalt Publishing

COLLECTION
• The Girl With No Hands, Angela Slatter, Ticonderoga Publications

ANTHOLOGY
• Wings of Fire, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Marianne S. Jablon, Night Shade Books

HORROR SHORT STORY
• The Fear, Richard Harland, Macabre: A Journey Through Australia’s Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press

HORROR NOVEL
• Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott, Pan Macmillan

FANTASY SHORT STORY (joint winners)
• The February Dragon, LL Hannett & Angela Slatter, Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga Publications
• Yowie, Thoraiya Dyer, Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press

FANTASY NOVEL
• Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts, HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)

SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
• The Heart of a Mouse, K.J. Bishop, Subterranean Online (Winter 2010)

SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
• Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres, Orbit (Hachette)

PETER MCNAMARA AWARD
• Helen Merrick

The full list of finalists can be found here. My sincere and heartfelt congratulations to everyone!

Don’t Scare the Children?

Last week I finished a short story which proved very different from anything else I’ve done.  It was written for a children’s anthology of ghosts stories with the target reader age range of 10-13 years. It was the first time I’ve ever written for such a young age group and so I spent quite a lot of time thinking about subject matter, language and tone. I considered The Graveyard Book and noted how Neil Gaiman was able to get away with some really, really awful subject matter by employing both judicious language and a tone that makes the reader — regardless of their age — feel very safe. I also tried to recall the types of stories I loved to read when I was that age and kept coming back to two primary emotional elements: fear and wonder. (Nothing much has changed.)

I had a character in mind — who I loved — and a vague of idea of how her story would unfold, and generally that’s all I need before I start actually putting words on screen. So I started and was promptly met with a near constant series of roadblocks and dead ends. Most of these related to content. There were plot elements and complexities I had to abandon due to lack of space, resulting in character dynamics that needed to be recalibrated. There was also a poignant climactic scene which I regretfully set aside because it necessitated the body of an eleven year old being found buried in her own back yard — and there is simply no way for an eleven year old girl to be found buried in her own backyard without A Very Bad Thing having happened to put her there.

(Normally, Very Bad Things are my stock in trade. But this time I wasn’t writing that kind of story — I was trying for quirky and optimistic — and the prospective weight of A Very Bad Thing was causing a fatal imbalance in the narrative, so the envisaged scene was never written. I’m sure it will find its way into another tale somewhere along the line.)

The ending itself took ages to find. I wasted a couple of frustrating hours one evening writing and deleting — and rewriting and redeleting — before realising that I’d already stumbled across the finish line a few paragraphs before and all I was doing was trying to manufacture an unnecessary coda. And the reason it took me so long to see this was that the ending was a happy one. I have a natural distrust of happy endings. They very often don’t feel right to me. They don’t feel genuine. They lack resonance. But this ending was right for this story, even if it wasn’t the kind of story I usually write. So I trusted it and tightened the narrative in a few places to provide better support and . . . I think it works well.

It’s not a particularly scary story, because ghosts don’t have to be scary, but it has fear and it has wonder. And it has a happy ending. (Stranger things have happened.) Best of all, I’ve heard back from the editor and he loves it. There’ll be some tweaks to make in copy editing — a couple of minor points that I need to be less subtle about, exposition wise — but it’s basically living and breathing on its own. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and writing for kids is definitely something I’d like to do again if I get the opportunity.

But for now, it’s back wrestling with Novel the Second.

Against Professionalism, Craft and Story

Over at Booklife, author and editor Nick Mamatas has written a thought-provoking series of three posts concerning certain aspects of writing (or being a writer) that tend to get bandied around a lot these days. Since I’ve got no time to make words of my own here today, may I humbly suggest you wander over there and read Nick’s instead. I agree with roughly 91.732% of them.

Against Professionalism:

It’s all rather nightmarish: don’t complain about rejection letters or reviews, don’t talk about editors and agents on Twitter or your blog, wear khakis and not blue jeans to conferences and bring plenty of business cards, keep away from politics except for the fannishly correct (and legitimate) concerns about diversity in publications in your public utterances. This advice is the new currency in the community of aspiring writers because it’s easy to give and easy to follow. What’s hard is writing.

Against Craft:

“Craft” today is not a counter to the Romantic vision of an artistic elite chosen by the Divine, it is a quasi-proletarian flinch often designed to protect one’s work from being compared to art, thus protecting it (and one’s ego) from its near-inevitable failure to stack up to the idea of art as a superlative.

Against Story:

What do people want? “A good story.” How do we know? People can barely say anything else. When editors describe the sort of material they’re looking to acquire, they want “a good story.” Readers are always on the hunt for “a good story.” Good stories are also useful for shutting down a variety of discussions. Are there not enough women being published, or people of color? Who cares who the author is, so long as he or she writes a good story? Can writers do different things with their stories—create new points of view, structure words on the page differently, work to achieve certain effects not easily accessible with more common presentations? Why bother—a good story is the only important thing.

Not so much walking, as talking . . .

So I read this article about the “SlutWalk” phenomenon today in the Sydney Morning Herald. I wasn’t going to blog about the whole SlutWalk thing, because my thoughts are complicated and the issue deserves some fairly nuanced treatment and I really don’t have a day to spare writing a complicated, nuanced blog post right now. Besides, there are other people already doing a good job of it and I’m sure you all know how to google.

But I read the article because someone tweeted it and then — stupidly — I started to read the comments. Here’s a selection of some the more offensive examples of what is clearly a major theme among the commenters:

“My dear old mother used to say: “They that lack respect for themselves and throw themsleves away, get treaded upon”. Smart lady my old mother.” (posted by: The Beak)

“But it is funny, isn’t it, how for the most part men don’t feel the irresistible urge to frolic around in public in skimpy clothing.” (posted by: Lee McSwain)

“Fine, dress like a slut. It’s a liberal democracy. But don’t expect to be taken seriously like women who don’t dress like sluts.” (posted by: Jason Decliner)

“Sure express yourself, but take care for how some men are wired, and may express themselves, if provoked. Give their nature as much respect as you give your own.” (posted by: AuDasign1)

“What is also ironically not acknowledged is that those who do dress provocatively are also often into power, the projection of sexual power. Unfortunately those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. So many of these comments take me back to Wimminism 101. What a nostalgia trip!” (posted by: adamjc)

I’m still not intending to write a lengthy post about the whole SlutWalk thing. (Seriously, I do not have the time.) But here’s the thought that always pops in my brain whenever I read tired old comments like those above: surely men should feel insulted almost as much as women.

I mean, seriously, guys. I don’t have a penis, I’ve never had a penis, and I don’t expect to acquire a penis anytime soon. But if I did have a penis and was essentially being told that — because of said penis — all it took to provoke me into committing a sexual assault against another person was a pair of tight pants or a short skirt or six inch heels or — gasp! — a flash of cleavage, that in fact I wouldn’t be able to control myself in the face of such titillation, I’d be feeling pretty fucking pissed off right now.

And what I really can’t understand is why it is so often men who make such comments. Not exclusively, sure, there are always women  eager to tout the “just can’t help themselves” line as well, but it comes with such casual regularity from men as to baffle the mind. Or, at least, my mind. When I come across a derogatory generalisation regarding my gender, it makes me furious. (You might have noticed.) And this generalisation is surely one of the vilest.

You are a man. You cannot control yourself. You are a slave to your base desires. You are not to be trusted. You are not safe. That thing in your pants? It’s a loaded weapon utterly beyond your ability to command. You are not a man — you are a threat to be avoided, appeased and guarded against.

It’s just awful. And it certainly doesn’t describe any of the men I’ve known and loved in my life. (It doesn’t even describe any of the men I’ve known and loathed.) Yet I’ve heard some of the men I’ve loved spout similar, if sometimes diluted, sentiments to those found in the comments section of the SMH article and this I do not understand. You are tarring your own gender. You do not get a Get Out of Jail Free card. You do not get to be the self-proclaimed golden exception to the vile rule. Think better. Expect better. Demand better.

Yes, this a feminist issue. But, like so many other feminist issues, it’s not just about women.

And that’s my vague non-post about whole SlutWalk thing.

SlutWalk Shoes

Photobombs . . . 1915 Style!

My husband is currently compiling a book about his great-great-grandfather, Konrad Nahrung, who emigrated to Australia from Germany back in the 19th Century. Most of the book consists of an annotated transcription of Konrad’s memoirs, along with whatever supporting documents my husband has been able to dredge up from various people and places. One of these documents is a 50th Wedding Anniversary portrait of Konrad and his wife, Wilhemina, photographed with the extended Nahrung clan on 9th July, 1915:

Nahrung 50th Wedding Anniversary

I love this photo for many reasons. It is old — the actual card-mounted print we have is faded and chipped, with the surface flaking off here and there — and seeing all those grim, unsmiling faces reminds me of just what a serious business photography once was. And time-consuming: look at those couple of blurred babes who simply could not sit still enough for the time it took the shutter to close.

But my very favourite part of this photograph is the little head peeking out from inside the building that forms the backdrop. (You’ll probably need to click on the image and bring it up full-size in order to make him or her out.) We have no idea who this early 20th Century photobomber is — she or he is not mentioned in the accompanying document that names the members of the family pictured — but I’m very pleased to see that the solemnity of the occasion was maintained. There were no cheesy grins, crossed eyes or cheeky rabbit ears from this interloper!

I do wonder who it is, though. A disgraced black sheep determined to get in on the family portrait no matter what? A farm worker or unrelated visitor intent on seeing their image preserved for posterity? At this late date it will likely be impossible to ever find a name to match that half-concealed face. But, almost one hundred years later, she or he is still there. Still being noticed and pondered and smiled over well into the next century.

Job well done, young photobomber. Job well done!

The Return of Free Book Friday!

Free Book Friday

Free Book Friday is now a monthly giveaway, on the first Friday of each month. The rules remain the same, the only difference is that I’ll be giving away four books each month, which means if you want more than one you get to combine postage. I’m not putting any limits on the number of books anyone can claim each month, but I’ll try to be fair. If one person jumps in and says, “Yes! I’ll take them all!” but someone else pipes up soon afterwards and asks if they could maybe have just one of the titles, I’ll probably say yes. Spreading the love, you know. 🙂

Okay, so this month we have the following lovely books ready to find new homes:

  • Troy by Simon Brown (Ticonderoga Publications, 2006 paperback edition). Excellent condition with no marks and minimal signs of use. Weight: 300 grams
  • Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Text Publishing, 2008 trade paperback edition). Excellent condition with no marks and minimal signs of use. Weight: 700 grams
  • Lovedeath by Dan Simmons (Headline, 2003 paperback edition). Good condition, some yellowing of pages, small “remainder” mark on bottom pages, some spine creasing. Weight: 600 grams
  • Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys (Orion, 2009 trade paperback edition). Excellent, never-read condition. Weight: 300 grams

Hands up who wants them!

A reminder of The FBF Rules:

1. If you want any of the books, please post a comment on my official blog. First in, best dressed. I know this blog is linked or crossposted to Facebook and Twitter and GoodReads and Livejournal, but for simplicity’s sake the giveaway will only apply to comments made directly on the www.kirstynmcdermott.com site.

2. The books themselves are free but unfortunately, Australia Post services are not. :-( So, if you’re in Australia, you’ll need to send me a self-addressed prepaid satchel so that I can then send your book to you. If you’re overseas, it will be a bit trickier but I’m sure we can work out a way for you to cover postage. Probably using PayPal. And, of course, if you actually know me and tend to run into me around Melbourne from time to time, I’ll be more than happy to hand your book over in person.