The Writer and the Critic: Episode 21

The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from the website or via subscription from iTunes. Feedback is most welcome!

Here are the show notes:

Recorded back before Continuum 8 in June but still fresh as the proverbial daisy, this episode of The Writer and the Critic sees your hosts, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, joined by editor and fellow podcaster Jonathan Strahan. The trio try not to ramble too much about a variety of topics, from off-the-cuff commentary and its resultant fallout, to gender and science fiction, to the role of gatekeepers, to some possibly self-indulgent behind the scenes snippets from the world of podcasting. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Galactic Suburbia, Last Short Story and, of course, the Notes from Coode Street podcast are all mentioned.

At around the 28:40 point, Kirstyn then manages to herd them onwards to the novel Galveston by Sean Stewart, which Jonathan recommended for all of them to read. Galveston was a joint winner (along with Declare by Tim Powers) in 2001  of  the World Fantasy Award, a year in which Jonathan served on the relevant awards jury. That’s how much he loves this book.

Jonathan Strahan and Galveston by Sean Stewart.jpg

They then move on to the official novels for the podcast, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (beginning at 54:55) and The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan (around the 1:22:00 mark). Ian confesses to having watched the marvellous trailer for The Drowning Girl around thirty times while reading the book and thinks you should watch it at least once or twice! In a tangential discussion about semi-autobiographical fiction, the title of the pertinent Catherynne M. Valente story that Kirstyn fails to remember is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time”.

Akata Witch and The Drowning Girl

Listeners might also like to check out the recent Notes from Coode Street episode in which Caitlín R. Kiernan is interviewed and talks about The Drowning Girl, as well as previous Writer and Critic episodes in which Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor and The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan were featured. Don’t forget to tune back in to this episode at 2:13:45 for some very brief closing remarks!

Next month will bring another pre-record from June, with very special joined-at-the-brain guests Angela Slatter and Lisa L. Hannett. As with their previous double-barrelled guest podcast with Alison Goodman and Kelly Link, Ian and Kirstyn decline to nominate books of their own to talk about and instead will focus on the two recommendations from their guests: Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore and Galore by Michael Crummey. Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!



The Writer and the Critic: Episode 9

The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from our brand new Podbean website or via subscription from iTunes. Here are the show notes:

This month on The Writer and the Critic, your hosts Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond navigate their way to the cosy, cat-populated abode of their special guest, Melbourne author Cameron Rogers. They talk about the troublesome life of Cam’s (second) debut novel, The Music of Razors, and what he’s been doing with himself since its publication, and move on to discuss a variety of topics ranging from from karma collectives to the reasons why sometimes you really do need to turn down a three-book contract. There is also wine and gingerbread men. Angry gingerbread men.

Cameron Rogers, Ian Mond & Kirstyn McDermott

Cam has recommended World War Z by Max Brooks for his book this month which results in a lively debate about zombies, cultural authenticity and gender disparity. Kirstyn made a spreadsheet — no, really, it’s far more engaging than it sounds! For those wanting to skip ahead and avoid spoilers, discussion about World War Z begins at 30:50 and ends around 56:00.

World War Z / Cameron Rogers

Attention is then turned to the official podcast books: Eclipse 4 edited by Jonathan Strahan — selected by Ian — and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — Kirstyn’s choice. (For those playing at home, the actress who has been cast as Katniss Everdeen in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games is Jennifer Lawrence; Kirstyn regrets her mental blank during recording and hopes this saves you all from yelling Jennifer’s name at your iPods or iPod-like devices when it comes up.) There are many, many plot spoilers so if you want to skip ahead, discussion of Eclipse begins at 56:00, while Hunger Games starts around 1:30:10.

Eclipse 4 / The Hunger Games

Check back in at the 01:47:50 for some possibly amusing final remarks and apologies to Cat Sparks for failing to respond to her feedback yet again. Next episode, Cat, that’s a promise!

Next month’s Writer and the Critic is a Hugo Awards special. The awards will be announced on 20 August at Renovation, so Ian and Kirstyn will be reading and discussing two books from the final ballot: Dervish House by Ian McDonald and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Two other nominated works have been previously discussed on this podcast: Feed by Mira Grant in Episode 2 and Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis in Episode 7. (The fifth Hugo nominated book is Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, but Ian and Kirstyn have decided not to discuss this as it is part of the Vorkosigan saga with which they have not been keeping up. Listener feedback and opinions from those who have read Cryoburn, however, will be most welcome!)

Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!

The Writer and the Critic: Episode 2

The second episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from the website or via subscription from iTunes. Feedback is most welcome!

Here are the show notes:

At the start of this episode of The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond spend a little time addressing some listener feedback from last month concerning social media and book recommendations. They have picked a book recommended by a listener to be read and reviewed in February but they’re not telling you which one because, as Ian says, there aren’t enough surprises in the world anymore.

The Writer and the Critic is a proud contributor to the global surprise quotient.

Then follows a very lengthy discussion about The Book Thief (one of the novels from the previous podcast) which was sparked off by a passionate and thought-provoking review of the same from Catherynne M. Valente. Free-from digressions may or may not be included. Conclusions may or may not be drawn. Ian and Kirstyn vow not to mention this particular book again for quite some time.

This month’s official books up for review are Feed by Mira Grant (recommended by Ian) and The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan (chosen by Kirstyn).

The Problematic First Person

I’m off to Phillip Island for an impromptu writing retreat this weekend, hoping to kick some serious Novel the Second butt. Things are stagnating a little right now (mainly because I’ve been insanely busy with non-writing life stuff) and it will be wonderful to have an entire, internet-free, intensive weekend away to focus on nothing but my novel.

But first, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts regarding first person narratives which have been knocking about in my head this past week. These were sparked off by a blog post from one of my favourite writers, Caitlin R Kiernan. Both the post and the discussion in the comments which follows it are well worth a read. The pertinent section begins:

When you’re reading a first-person narration, you’re reading a story that’s being told by a fictional author, and that fictional author— or interauthor —is, essentially, the central character. Their motivations are extremely important to the story. The simple fact that they are telling the story, in some fictional universe, raises questions that I believe have to be addressed by first-person narratives. Why is the interauthor writing all this down? How long is it taking her or him? Do they intend it to be read by others? Is it a confessional? Reflection? A warning? Also (and this is a BIG one), what happens to the interauthor while the story is being written, especially if it’s a novel-length work of fiction?

At the centre of Kiernan’s discussion about first person narratives, and the role of their interauthor, is the presumption that the narrative is actually being written down. That the interauthor has, consciously, written the book that you are reading. “A first-person narrative is, by definition, an artifact,” Kiernan notes, “and should be treated as such.”  If this is the case, then all sorts of problems regarding motivation and the passage of time do come into play and need to be considered — by both the writer and the reader.

But for myself — as both writer and reader — I never assume that a first person narrative is an actual artifact, any more than I assume this for third person narratives. Unless the narrator tells me that, yes, they are writing this story down, or it is apparent from the style (a journal, a series of letters, a collection of documents), then I don’t consider to be a “told story” as such. Although, I am necessarily aware that I am reading (or writing) an actual book — a fictional narrative created by a real world author — I put this knowledge aside when I embark on the journey. It’s part of my contract, as reader (or writer), with the story. I don’t think about the interauthor as an author unless it is clear that this is the case, and therefore I do not consider why they maybe writing the narrative down, how much time the process takes, what purpose it is meant to serve, and so on — because, for me, it is not being written down.

(This is why I have no problem, in principle, with a first person narration that ends with the death of the protagonist. It just better be written well!)

So what is the first person narrative then, if it is not a story written down by the interauthor? Where does it exist, and how? For me, it exists in the same place, and in the way, as third person narratives. When I read a story in the third person, I don’t consciously think, for example, “Caitlin Kiernan is telling me this”. The author disappears as much in third person as she does in first person, and the story becomes a thing which exists in its own right, somewhere between the page and my mind. It needs to be well written, it needs to follow its own internal logic, it needs have something — characters, plot, an idea — that I care enough about to interest me for the duration, but it does not necessarily need to ask/answer the question, “Why/how/when was this written?”

I’m thinking about this kind of stuff because, while mired in the middle of Novel the Second, I am already looking ahead to Novel the Third. My first novel, Madigan Mine, was written in the first person, but I don’t consider it to be an artifact The narrator/protagonist is not writing the story down in any way — that is, in the world of the story, the novel does not exist. My second novel is being told in third person, albeit third person limited, which brings its own set of problems and advantages. But my third novel will be a first person narrative once again — a narrative that, this time, is being self-consciously created by the interauthor.

I’m looking forward to working like that very much, as most of my fiction is written without this sort of self-consciousness, with an attempt to keep the “author” invisible and non-existent. The idea of writing a book that unashamedly proclaims itself to be a book, where the narrator — the interauthor — is explicitly acknowledging that they have created the story you are reading, feels both liberating and terrifying. There’s a whole swag of author tricks I won’t have to use for this story, but at the same time, there’s a whole swag of author tricks I won’t be able to use for this story. It will be a challenge. It’s very early days, but I’m already feeling my way into the story and the characters, and I can’t wait until I’m ready to begin.

First things first, though. Novel the Second, how about you and me run away to an island and make some sweet words together?