Archive for July, 2010


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I was thinking the other daythat it pays to give a work-in-progress a name.

Even if it’s a working title, unlikely to remain, just give it a name.

It’s like having a kid – you kind of need to have something to call it. “Hey, you”, “WiP” or “That thing that’s tormenting me constantly” (hey, just like a kid!) just doesn’t cut it.

“I don’t want to give it a name until it’s finished” … that’s like waiting until your kid presents a personality before you name her/him … on the 34th birthday you can yell “Hey! He’s a Norbert! Norbert, your years of being Number 5 are over. Congrats!”

Giving it a name, a title, makes it real, crystalises it, makes it something serious – it makes you take yourself seriously as a writer.

So. Give it a name, even it it’s Hal.

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Kathleen Jennings won the inaugural Kris Hemsbury Encouragement Award at this year’s Aurealis Awards. She writes, she illustrates, and she bakes – all these things she does superbly. And she is Queen of the Pikelets. She did beautiful illustrations for my Worlds Next Door story (FableCroft Press) and the below will give you some idea of her talent:

1. If I had to choose: writing or drawing?

They’re complementary – both are forms of story-telling, and I can procrastinate from each with the other (productive procrastination – what’s not to love?).

2. Which sale caused you to Snoopy Dance around the room?
I’ve never mastered the Snoopy Dance – it’s not compatible with hyperventilation. I did sit down and miss my chair when Small Beer Press asked me to do the cover for Cloud and Ashes.

3. When did you know you wanted to be/had to be a writer?
When people started telling me not to talk so much. I think I was about 3. Also, I wanted to be Katy Carr (from What Katy Did) when I grew up, so I spent a lot of time writing very dramatic scenes and pretending to be injured as a result of a terrible rope-swing accident.

4. How do you react to crits?
Blind panic. I stop breathing when people are reading my story (I nearly passed out the first time I put something up for critique at a Vision meeting, when people still read the  (and oddly, those by the people who don’t like my style of writing have often been the best <cough>thankyouJasonN</cough>) and have been helpful, so I always apply them and think they are wonderful after the event.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?

She blogs here.

This is one of the drawings she did for Genevieve and the Dragon in Worlds Next Door.

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Lisa Hannett survived Clarion South in 2009 (inspite of my cooking), and in the eighteen months or so since she’s published stories in (but not restricted to) Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Chizine, Weird Tales, ONSPEC, Midnight Echo, Scary Kisses, and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk Compendium. She is also working on finishing a PhD in Old Icelandic Literature (for which she went and learned Old Icelandic). She is, quite clearly, an underachiever :-P.

Lisa’s writing is wildly imaginative, beautifully rendered, and seemingly effortlessly crafted. She has stories coming out in Twelfth Planet Press’ Sprawl anthology, Tesseracts 14, and her collection of Blue Grass Opera stories must be read by those wanting their minds blown (someone should really snap it up, some smart, sexy publisher).

Here she takes time out from doing everything in the world to answer my random questions.

1)      I first knew I was a writer when…
… I got my first rejection. I mean, I’d been scribbling for years. Jotting down notes, working out plots, building worlds, creating characters. I had a totally lame epic fantasy in the desk drawer, and a stack of tragic poems (we all go through that tragic poetry phase, right?) but I was doing it all privately. Secretly, even. It wasn’t until I went through the process of sending out a story, waiting to hear from the editor, trying not to think about hearing from the editor, getting rejected – and then immediately setting myself up to do it all again – that I felt I was really a writer.

2)      A story can always be improved by the addition of…
… Pinkertons. And underground cities. And insane asylums. And bayous. And libraries with secret passages, trapdoors and revolving bookcases. And cemeteries. And peacocks. And haruspicy. Insane Pinkertons in an underground bayou searching for peacocks; finding them; gutting them; reading their entrails for clues; recording their findings on tombstones in a swamp library? Hmmmm. But, most importantly, stories are always improved by the addition of the ‘delete’ button. If I’d listened to my own suggestion, this answer would’ve been much more concise…

3)      Which sale caused you to Snoopy Dance around the room?
Every sale gets its own little dance. Sometimes I’m composed enough to do a little jig, but most of the time I jump up and down on the spot, often with arms flailing, kind of like a toddler not quite used to standing up. Any magazine or anthology willing to publish my stuff instantly becomes dance-worthy. But I suppose the biggest official Snoopy Dance™ I have done so far was when I sold a story to Clarkesworld last year. Honestly, reading that acceptance email launched me out of my desk chair so fast and so high, I think you can probably still see a dent in the ceiling.

4)      Who is your favourite fictional character, and why?
This is the most devilish question ever! So hard to choose! In fact, I’m incapable of choosing only one, so I’ll narrow it down to a few:

I usually fall for elusive, peripheral characters; the magical, trickster characters who tantalise us and then leave us wondering if we’ll ever see them again. When I was younger, it was Tad Williams’ ‘Sithi’ (pseudo-elves in his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy) that captured my imagination, largely because they were different enough from Tolkien’s elves to unsettle me. I must still carry a fondness for characters like that because one of my favourites recently has been the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which, by the way, is a brilliant brilliant brilliant book.) He is amoral, self-serving, and oozes magic – and he only makes brief appearances in Clarke’s massive novel (and have I mentioned it’s brilliant?). I also frequently think about the Fool from Robin Hobbs’ first three trilogies. I love that the Fool’s gender is hard to determine, that he/she is almost colourless, and he/she has a quick wit and an even quicker tongue. I love that the Fool doesn’t seem to be bound by one reality; much like the tricksters in Charles de Lint’s early fantasy novels, who are also favourites of mine.

But I also adore characters that are emotionally repressed — like Stevens, the ageing butler and narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. His inability to express his feeling is absolutely heartbreaking, and utterly effective. It’s been a year since I read that book last, and I still think about it. And characters who are repressed for other reasons — like Robert Neville in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (the book! not the film!), or the father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, who are both forced to deal with isolation, the end of humanity, and, well, not getting eaten — are the ones I find most intriguing.

I could go on forever, but I’ll leave it with one last, potentially favourite, favourite: Al Swearengen, proprietor of the Gem Saloon, from Deadwood. If I ever write a character as complex as Swearengen I’ll have reached nirvana. He is a greasy-haired, craggy-faced, foul-mouthed, ambitious, murdering son-of-a-bitch. His compassionate side involves performing mercy killings and working out his psychological issues while getting ‘serviced’ by his favourite saloon girl. And he frequently seeks advice from a rotting head kept in a box in his office. What’s not to love?

5)      Donuts or danishes.
Donuts all the way. Preferably Tim Horton’s (anyone who has been to Canada will know what I’m talking about). The best are Tim’s chocolate glazed – and by chocolate glazed I mean chocolate cake glazed with translucent sugar. Not white cake with chocolate icing, no siree. These are like fluffy mud cake rings dipped in deliciousness. And the best part about Tim Horton’s is the Timbits! Ever wonder what happens to the donut-holes? Well, they wind up in variety boxes of Timbits, sold in lots of 6, 12 or, for the serious sweet-tooth, 18. Yum yum yum and yum.

She blogs here

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More here.

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Peter M. Ball is a Clarion South survivor (i.e. member of the Borg Collective) from 2007. He is the writer responsible for Horn, the novella that ruined fluffy white unicorns for everybody (thankfully!). Its follow-up, Bleed, follows the further misadventures of Miriam Aster as she tries, generally very unsuccessfully, to avoid entanglement with the urban fey that populate her world.

His stories have appeared, well, everywhere. He is represented by a spokesbear, which means he should probably get a real agent very soon, and he is plagued by cats who fail to understand that they are lower on the food chain than he is. Here he uses the opportunity to procrastinate by answering questions.

1. Complete this sentence: Stalin may have been a bastard, but he …
… always seems to be damn jolly in photographs. I think it’s the combination of his moustache and cheeks – all you need to do is slap a white beard on him and he’d be the world’s scariest Santa Claus. And given this is the guy who ordered the Great Purge, I really wouldn’t want to be on Santa Stalin’s naughty list.

2. How do you generally react to crits?
I actually feel quite guilty after critiques of my work, largely because I’ve been blessed with a circle of friends who are enormously good at finding weaknesses in my work and saying thank-you never seems like an adequate response to the time and care they’ve taken.

3. What are your writing fetishes, i.e. what can’t you write without?
I’ve got a bunch of slightly off-kilter habits when it comes to writing: I talk to the stuffed bear that serves as my manager and spokescritter, I drink coffee in quantities that have been known to frighten visiting writers, and I’ll frequently dance around the study for plot (poorly) when I get stuck on a story. I don’t know that any of them would classify as fetishes though, since I can and have written without them in the past.

The stuff that really stops me producing words tends to be psychological hang-ups related to the fact that I need to write as part of my income these days: I’ll spend hours staring at an overdue phone bill while I fret about the fact that I haven’t sold a story lately, or I’ll get stuck on a story without realising it and drop into an internal monologue that’s all Oh god, I suck and will never be able to write again. There are many, many days I wish I were smarter about such things, but I’ve come to accept that they’re part of how I write and started figuring out ways to work around them.

4. I hate being a writer when …
 … people ask me what I do for a living. There’s rarely any good direction for the conversation to go once you tell people you’re a writer, especially if the person who asked doesn’t read. I admit that history may have given me a slight bias on this point – I’ve had a series of unfortunate experiences that eventuated from admitting to being a writer. Some of them involve six-hour bus rides and a clash with a particularly irritable police officer who took my career choice as a personal insult and started searching for reasons to arrest me on the spot.

Beyond that, there’s not much I dislike about being a writer. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do, and occasionally people give me money to make up bad things about unicorns.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or Danishes?
Danishes for breakfast, donuts with an afternoon coffee (and they usually are donuts when I have them, being lazy and prone to purchasing at American chains that migrated to Australia with their spelling intact).

Of course, both choices are inferior to a good cupcake. 

And he blogs here.

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