My ‘Meet the Writer’ Interview at Read Horror

It’s been quiet around here lately, mainly because I’ve been a) wrestling with a new computer, and b) wrestling with my novel. More of the former this past week, unfortunately! But I am getting the words down and I expect a massive boost from Rabbit Hole this weekend. I’m not insane enough to set myself the 30,000 words target, but I am trying for 10,000 over three days — which is near warp speed for me considering my obsessive, stitch-in-time, edit-as-I-g0 process. I’ll report back next week on how I did. See, accountability!

In the meantime, here’s an interview I did for Michael Wilson for Read Horror. I enjoyed answering the questions, even though I did find the one asking why people should read my work to be a particular challenge. Obviously, I need to get better at the whole self-promotion thing. You know, being able to publicly acknowledge that my writing is actually good and that people might actually enjoy reading it. I’m pretty crap at that. Of course, “enjoy” is such a relative term . . .

Right, back to the words.

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More Questions . . .

Life caught up with me in the past week, as it so often does, and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit back down with this little blog of mine. Anyway, here are a few more questions from the Book Lover’s Club competition, along with my answers. I’ll try to post the rest a little more frequently!

First, Sue Bell asked: What gives you the inspiration to write your book? ‘Madigan Mine’ is about Envy so will your next novel be based on one of the other deadly sins?

My inspiration comes from everything. People I know or have never met, places I’ve been to, things I’ve read or overheard, art, music, silly jokes — almost anything can become grist for the mill. I’m a junk collector of sorts, and carry a whole lot of weird stuff around in my metaphorical pockets until I realise that this piece actually belongs with that piece which goes together with this piece over there, and . . . hey, there’s a story to tell.

I suppose “envy” is a theme in Madigan Mine, although it’s not one that was at the forefront of my mind when writing the novel. Madigan is certainly selfish, and possessive, but I’m not certain whether these character traits stem from envy as much. In any case, my next novel is not based on any particular “deadly sin”. I actually have an unfinished series of short stories (or perhaps it is a mosaic novella) that revolve around the seven sins and seven virtues. It’s unresolved and I’m not sure where the ending is, but I’d like to return to it one day. When I’m not so busy. “Sloth” is certainly not a problem I’m having, these days!

This is from Emma Mercer: What is the biggest impact writing your book has had on you life? Has something you have thought of or written changed your outlook on the world around you?

The writing of the book didn’t really have much of an impact on my life, as I have tended to order my spare time around writing for as long as I can remember. Once the book was sold, and the wheels of publication began, that’s when the real impact kicked in. I’ve had to learn to prioritise my time around my writing to a great extent. Before publication, my writing was — not a “hobby”, I never thought of it as that, but it was something that was positioned somewhere near the middle of my priority list. Study, work, social obligations, family, friends . . . these parts of my life generally had more “weight” when it came to demands on my time. Possibly because I had no official deadline, no formal contract, nothing I could point to and say to myself: “Look, this is really important, you need to say no to all the other stuff people want you to do!” Having sold a book changes that. Having a contract for a second book changes that again. Time management is still not my strongest suit, but I’m getting better.

As to the second part of the question, I think that flows in the opposite direction. A change in my outlook on the world is far more likely to influence my writing, than the other way around. A new discovery, observation, or way of thinking seems to be processed by my brain as “Hey, that would make a good story!”. Writing is often a way to work through ideas and thoughts about the world, or at least that’s how it works for me.

Lastly (for today) Vina Pb wants to know:  What would be her can’t live without desert island books? If she had to choose 3 what would they be?

Which is an awful, awful question. 🙂 Desert Island Books. Hmm. They’d have to be books I would be happy to read again and again and again without getting bored with. Which does actually shorten the list somewhat, as there aren’t a lot of books that I love but which I think would stand up to ten or more readings. So, let’s go with:

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology edited by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm

These are not necessarily my favourite books in the whole world — although something by Shirley Jackson would be on that list — but for today it’s a selection I’m happy with. And I’m so, so sorry to all my beloved books that are being left behind. 😦

Truly, that was an awful question. I need to go and lie down now.

If you’re on Facebook,  please take a minute check out Book Lover’s Club — a site dedicated to the discussion of books of all genres, for book-lovers right across the globe.

How not to query a literary agent

Slushpile Hell is a very cool new blog which has just been brought to my attention (thanks, Foz!). Written by a “grumpy literary agent” it offers up some hilarious excepts from actual query letters along with the agent’s not-so-tongue-in-cheek response, as well humourous pieces of publishing advice. If you’re an aspiring writer seeking an agent, here is a concise object lesson in what not to do.  If you’re aspiring agent, it will probably make you think twice about your career choice. Even if you fall into neither camp, it’s still bloody funny.

Here are a few of my favourites to whet your appetite:

Thanks for reading my query. Tell me what cha think I’m not going to go back and read it so everything you read was just typed with out double checking.

This is my life as a literary agent, folks. Jealous?

Today is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a promising young author’s career. Today is your chance to be the one who lights the wick on the bottle rocket that will carry my name into the upper echelon and today is your chance to grab a ticket on that ride.

No, after reading this, I think that today is the day to take my drinking to a whole new level.

Till the moment your eyes run across this letter, you and I are nothing but “Strangers” to each other. I hope to remove the unsightly strangeness that stands between us so that we might get to know one another better.

Me: creeped out.

With foggy dreams about the graceful future and with beautiful butterflies tangling within my tummy, I write this query email.

Sorry, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

I have yet to be published, but that is only because I have yet to try.

And I have yet to win the Tour de France, Nobel Peace Prize, or the Quail Hollow Hog-Calling Contest, but that’s only because…well, you know.

stress reduction kit

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?

Writerly Links

Kate Forsyth has written a beautiful account of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Waring, who migrated from England to the Australian colonies as a young woman and who would later go on to write the first children’s book to be published in Australia. Kate talks about the mysteries of creativity and how a small, brown pebble plucked from an English garden in 1826 would eventually inspire her own fantasy series for children, The Chain of Charms:

I believe a writer takes everything they have ever seen and heard and felt and longed for and been disgusted by – they pour it into the crucible of the imagination and transform into something quite different. It is alchemy. It is magic.

Brandon VanOver talks about the relationship between author and editor over at the Random House blog:

Sometimes I encounter the misconception that authors are alone on an island of creativity, and editors are simply drab sticklers who take a manuscript and tidy it up by applying the laws of grammar and usage, laws as predictable and inscrutable as gravity. The truth is that there are few more intimate and dynamic relationships in publishing.

Molly Ringle of Seattle was the grand prize winner of the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual competition to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. This competition honours the memory of 19th English century writer Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, who famously opened his 1830 novel Paul Clifford, with the much-quoted, “It was a dark and stormy night”. Molly Ringle won with the following truly cringeworthy sentence:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

The full list of winners across all categories can be found on the official Bulwer-Lytton website.

Finally, an oldie but definitely a goodie: Neil Gaiman’s pep talk to NaNoWriMo authors. Witty and inspiring, Neil’s advice is the perfect pick me up for any author sunk hip-deep in the Novel Doldrums:

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Hmmm. Think I might need to go read the whole thing again myself.

Writers on Writing

Australian writer of “rollicking adventure fantasy”, Rowena Cory Daniells, has written a lengthy and entertaining overview of the fantasy genre for the Australia Literature Review, with an emphasis on Australian authors. She includes several thought-provoking quotes from notables in the field, of which my favourite is from Ursula Le Guin on the function of fantasy in contemporary society:

Fantasy is a literature particularly useful for embodying and examining the real difference between good and evil. In an America where our reality may seem degraded to posturing patriotism and self-righteous brutality, imaginative literature continues to question what heroism is, to examine the roots of power, and to offer moral alternatives. Imagination is the instrument of ethics. There are many metaphors beside battle, many choices besides war, and most ways of doing good do not, in fact, involve killing anybody. Fantasy is good at thinking about those other ways.

“Imagination is the instrument of ethics.” That is simply awesome. I think I need to get it tattooed somewhere.

Meanwhile, David Barnett of The Guardian has penned a column concerning the “ongoing endless war between ‘literary’ fiction and ‘genre’ fiction”, sparked off by the Neil Gaiman’s introduction to Stories — the anthology Gaiman co-edited with Al Sarrantonio. Worth a read for its musings on story, plot and character, as well as its reminder that “literary” fiction is indeed a genre in itself. If you have the time, make yourself a cup of tea and peruse the lengthy comments section. There’s a fascinating discussion going on there.

And just the other day, in his acceptance speech for the Carnegie Medal (awarded to The Graveyard Book), Neil Gaiman himself spoke about the role of libraries — those made from bricks and mortar — in the digital age:

We’re now in an age of ‘too much information’. Libraries and librarians are more important than ever. . .  Children want stories. They want information. They want knowledge about the strange world they’re in. Saying that the internet can be that is like setting a child free in a jungle and expecting them safely to find things to eat.

Yes indeed, there has been many fine words of wisdom from the interwebs the month. Mmm, crunchy.

Toil and Travel

Did I say I would keep this blog updated regularly? And you believed me?

Some lovely news today: my story “Painlessness”, which won the Aurealis Award, the Ditmar Award, and the Chronos Award this past year, has now received an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror (for 2008) to be published by Nightshade Press.  That little story is doing very well for itself indeed!

I’m away from home at the moment, toiling away in the wordmines at a writing retreat on Bribie Island. Well, not so much toiling as thinking and plotting and getting rid of my second novel’s flabby midsection. Which is toil of its own kind.

On Friday, I leave Australia for my first real holiday in years. New Orleans, Mexico and San Francisco, with a grand finale being attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose. Bliss!

Of course, once I’m back home in November, the real writing work begins. Editing the first novel, polishing away all the rough edges, beating my head against the screen in frustration … I’m genuinely looking forward to it. I’m guessing at that point, this whole Getting Published thing will finally sink in and start to feel real.

Okay, back to the toil. This is my last full day on Bribie and it’s glorious. But I shall lock myself in my room for a few hours and get some serious plotting done. Then maybe I can have one last walk on the beach.