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Archive for the ‘On Writing: Short Stories’ Category

Gillian Polack is an Australian hsitorian and writer of fantasy. She is the author of the novel Life Through Cellophane, edited Masques (CSFG) and the new anthology for Eneit Press, Baggage, which contains stories from such luminaries as Kaaron Warren and Deborah Biancotti. She has written fantastic entries for one of the most useful books on my shelf, Lindahl’s Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs. She’s also a medieval foodie and she bloggeth here.

1. You recently edited the Baggage anthology for Eneit Press – how did that come about?
I thought it came about because I was involved in a discussion with my editor (of Life Through Cellophane) about my dream book, but it recently transpired that she set the whole thing up. In other words, Eneit Press wanted an anthology from me, because Sharyn rather thought I could do something she would want to publish.  From my end, though, it went something like:

Sharyn Lilley:  “What’s your dream anthology?” 

Gillian Polack: “Cultural baggage, of course, Australian and very spec fic.  Pushing boundaries.  Giving writers nightmares.” 

Sharyn Lilley: “Who are your dream writers?” 

Gillian Polack:  “In the real world, I’d have to think about it.  In a perfect world, I’d start with Jack Dann and Janeen Webb and Lucy Sussex and KJ Bishop and Simon Brown and Maxine McArthur and Kaaron Warren and…” 

Sharyn Lilley:  “Write to them today.  Just the first ones on the list, mind.  You can write to the others later, if there’s space.  Offer them a place in Eneit Press’s new anthology.”

Gillian Polack: “But I’m shy.”

Sharyn Lilley:  “Don’t care.  Write now.  This minute.”

Those weren’t the exact words, but that was how it happened.  I never even got to the rest of my list of dream writers, because the first list mostly said ‘yes.’  And their stories gave at least three of the writers nightmares.  I thought I was sweetness and light and a gentle soul, but it seems not.

2. You get to be your favourite fictional character for a day with no consequences: who are you, where do you go and what do you do?
I am so torn. I want to be Belle from the Disney cartoon, simply so that I can own her library.  I’d find the lost books of Livy there and spend my day reading them. Or I’d look up the books that have the unwritten Jewish history I’ve only seen hints of in stories.

I also want to be Aslan, so that I can fix up the Susan error and create my own world. 

I want to be Emma in Emma Tupper’s Diary and to be non-meek and still inherit the Earth (why does she have to be so nice and so gentle, even under provocation?).

I want … to be a bunch of characters, not just those few.  There are too many things to do and too many places to imagine.  I think I’d better give up and become a writer.

3. You are forced to choose: editing or writing?
Writing, of course. With writing I still get to edit, but with editing it’s always the dreams of others.  I hope I never have to choose, though, because the dreams of others are so very wonderful.

4. How much does your academic work feed into your fiction writing?
Who I am feeds into my fiction writing.  The academic side of my brain shows in my fiction, if you look closely enough. I edit my own work so that you can pin it down to a precise time.  No vaguely ‘contemporary’ for me, because I can see the history happening and I use it in my writing.  If I set a novel in 2004 in Canberra, then there are going to be scars from the bushfires.  Not just landscape scars, but in peoples’ minds.  This is the historian in me, reminding the writer in me that place and time count.  We’re not neutral about them.

On a more obvious note, I’m currently writing a novel mostly set in the Middle Ages, but with modern characters.  That uses my academic self extensively.  The trick is going to be not letting the historian take over and not overload the whole thing with footnotes and analysis. 

There’s a third direction where my academic self feeds into my fiction self. Very little of my fiction is free from theses.  I don’t always make them obvious, but they’re there. I’m always poking holes in someone’s ideas and prized thoughts with my fiction.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes.
It depends on the recipe.  It depends on the date of the recipe.  If you added ‘the early 80s’ to your question, I’d say danishes for Australia and doughnuts for the US, for instance.  I like both, though.  Good ones.  The sort you can’t eat more than once a year without losing a bit of your soul.

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As an editor and anthologist Jonathan Strahan is recidivist*. He is compulsively nominated for Hugos and World Fantasy Awards – he’s on the World Fantasy shortlist again this year for Eclipse 3. For a fullsome bibliography, you must go here – it reads like The King’s Library. There are various Year’s Bests, Starry Rifts, Eclipses, etc, under his belt and he’s midwifed more books than you can poke a stick at. He is also Reviews Editor and an occasional reviewer for Locus magazine. He co-founded the seminal Eidolon.

1. The greatest joy I find in being an editor is …
… the moment when a new story, one you’re excited about and have been waiting for, that fell through your email inbox 5 minutes ago, which you opened breathless and desperate for, hits that sweet spot where you know it’s not only good, it’s better than you thought, and you’re about to find out by just how much. That’s the best moment of being an editor for me.

2. Have you ever selected a story for an anthology that you’ve regretted later?
Ohhhhh. Yes. I have selected stories and later regretted them, though for a wide range of reasons. I might tell you about the worst one over drinks at WorldCon**.

3. Wonder Woman -v- Storm from X-Men: discuss.
I grew up in the 70s. Wonder Woman! I mean there was all that slow motion jogging, and I was barely in my teens. As to Storm – who?

4. What makes a story irresistible?
The X factor. A story that makes you forget you’re reading a submission and turns you from an editor back into a reader is irresistible. What makes that happen? You should know that. You’re a writer. Magic.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
Donuts. But not the holes.

Follow his advetnures here.

* On a side note: I once had a boyfriend who kept asking what a recidivist was. The first three times I thought it was a joke. Uh oh.

**I hereby undertake to buy him drinks until he tells me what story that was – everyone can make donations via PayPal.

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Sean Wallace is founder and editor of the World Fantasy Award-winning Prime Books, he is co-editor of Clarkesworld (a Hugo and World Fantasy nominee), and Fantasy Magazine. He’s also edited a variety of anthologies, including: Best New Fantasy, Fantasy, Horror: The Best of the Year, and Jabberwocky.

He takes some time out to answer my questions. He is a nice man.

1. I didn’t choose editing, editing chose me: discuss.
I’ve always wanted to be a publisher, more so than an editor, but as with doing a lot of what goes on behind a small press, you find yourself with many hats. Editing is really an extension of that, and I enjoy it, particularly with the stories that I bring to CLARKESWORLD, and FANTASY MAGAZINE. I like bringing to readers something exciting and new that I saw first 😛

2. When I started Prime, my main motivation was …
… to publish projects that didn’t quite fit in with what I was doing with Cosmos Books, which was a bit more traditionally-focused than what I wanted to do with Prime Books.

3. The worst mistake made by newbie authors is …
… undervaluing their talent or themselves to the extent that they don’t give themselves a chance to get published.

4. Batman -v- Dr Manhattan: comments?
Batman. He’s a total badass. Who wouldn’t want to be him?

5. Donuts or danishes?
Usually danishes, unless it’s Krispy Kreme donuts, at which point I can seemingly snarf down a dozen in under a minute 😛

He blogs here.

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Mary’s first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, the fantasy novel Jane Austen should have written, was released into the wild this year (via the good graces of Tor and the lovely Liz Gorinsky). She received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2008 and looked very fetching wearing the tiara. She was a Hugo nominee for Evil Robot Monkey in 2009, she was the Art Editor at the beautiful Shimmer for quite some time, and her work has appeared in venues as diverse as Asimovs, Strange Horizons and her short story collection, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories is available from the lush Subterranean Press. She’s also an amazing puppeteer, and she can steampunk anything.

1. Who is/are your main writing buddy/ies?
That is a surprisingly tough question.  There are so many different ways to answer that … Let me demonstrate: These are the people that I’m most likely to turn to when I’m fighting a story, Beth Wodzinski, Michael Livingston and Laurel Amberdine.  Then there’s my Portland writing group, David D. Levine, David Goldman, Garth Upshaw, Damian Kilby and Felicity Shoulders. Or the people that offer me general career advice, or the ones that I am most likely to be found in a bar with at a con, or the ones that I hang out with and talk shop in Portland… you see my dilemma?

2. How did you make the shift from puppetry to writing? What was the attraction?
They seem so closely related to me that I don’t feel like I’ve made the shift from one to the other so much as broadened my avenues for telling stories.  The appeal of both mediums is the same: they are the theater of the possible. With both puppetry and speculative fiction I am not bound by the limits of the natural world. There are obvious differences between the two. With puppetry I’m usually in a collaborative environment and have an immediate connection with the audience. As a writer, I complete my work alone and the audience experiences it later, usually also as a solo experience.  Both forms have their appeal but it really all gets back to the types of stories each allow me to tell.

3. What are your writing fetishes? i.e. what can’t you write without?
Sleep.  I normally write on the computer but have written standing on the subway platform, or with a manual typewriter at a picnic table, or on the back of scrap paper in longhand when my battery died on an airplane and I had to finish that scene.  

The things that really get in the way are single conversations that override the ambient noise and pull me in. Lack of sleep also kills me.

The other thing that slows down writing is when I’m designing a show. My productivity drops to almost zero. I think that they use the same parts of my brain. I can still write but lose the drive to do so.

So… no fetishes, but some blocks.

4. What inspired Shades of Milk and Honey?
I was reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion and wondered why there weren’t any small-scale fantasies.  I love these intimate stories where the fate of the world isn’t what hangs in balance but the future of a young woman. So I wanted to write a story that focused on one family. In particular, I was wondering what sort of novel Jane Austen would write if she lived in a world with magic.  I think it would still be the same sort of story with the addition of magic.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
If you still have any of the old-fashioned buttermilk cake donuts in back, I’ll have one of those, thank you. Otherwise, the tart cherry danish that’s in the case on the right would be lovely.

She blogs here.

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Ticonderoga Publications is a punchy indie press operated by the delightful Russell B. Farr. TP has produced (amongst others) Sean Williams’ Magic Dirt, Terry Dowling’s Basic Black, Simon Brown’s Troy, and the upcoming Dead Sea Fruit by Kaaron Warren, the anniversay re-release of Kim Wilkins’ The Infernal, Sara Douglass’ The Hall of Lost Footsteps – oh, and my The Girl With No Hands & Other Tales.  AND! several awesome anthologies (I love anthologies): Belong, Fantastic Wonder Stories, Scary Kisses (with his partner, the lovely Liz Grzyb wearing the editing hat) … with Scary Kisses II and  Dead Red Heart open for subs as I type.

Because I am incompetent (but rather adorable), I managed to ask Russell two lots of questions … and because he’s terribly nice, he answered them both. So, who am I to deny the People access to both sets of answers? Voila!

1. Editing or writing, because …
Editing. I’m much better at being involved in the refining of the creative process than having to to all the slog work. I admire the talents of those who can throw words at the page and produce visions, spectacles, new worlds. This doesn’t come easily to me. I think I have fairly strong internal filters, so when an idea does come to me I’m pretty good at shutting it down. Editing comes more naturally to me, I’m more a fixer than a maker.

2. I choose my writers by ….
Honestly? Mostly it’s a scattergun approach. I try to keep an eye on who is publishing, who is getting noticed, who is getting talked about, who is solid at marketing themself, who is good, and who seems to have a compatible mindset. This gives me a fairly large list, growing all the time, and then I have bursts where I ask them, a handful at a time. A lot of the time i\I’ll get a polite “thanks but no thanks”, or an “I’ll get back to you”, and that’s usually the end of the matter. Sometimes it’s a case of catching the right person at the right time.

I usually have a vague idea of how many books each year I want to do, and it’s then a case of asking until I get enough.

3. I know a book’s done when ….
Sadly, a book is never done. Or it reaches “done” many times. The first time it’s done is when it goes to the printers, as that’s the last chance to tinker with the design or contents. Then it’s done when it comes back, and I’m holding the finished product in my hands, there’s a sense of closure there.

Then it’s a case of selling and pushing and selling and pushing. I guess a book is done when all copies are sold and everyone’s paid. Such days are the things of dreams…

4. The worst newbie mistake I ever saw was …
I honestly have no idea. I don’t assume a writer is a newbie, unless they tell me that they’re a newbie. I guess that could be it.

1. The future of the small press in Australia is …
… so bright I gotta wear shades.

There are a bunch of fine presses out there right now doing a bunch of good stuff. If I wear the pessimistic hat I could question if there are sufficient buyers to maintain things, but over the past 15-20 years things have ticked along merrily and I don’t see that stopping. Different presses have had their highs and lows over that time, some have disappeared, new ones have emerged. There’s always 3 or 4 presses going strong, and a handful of others ticking over. Right now that seems to be the likes of Twelfth Planet and Fablecroft, both with ambitious plans, while there are niche players like Brimstone, Coeur de Lion, CSFG, Mirrordanse and Tasmaniac providing an extra layer of depth.

I don’t see why this shouldn’t continue. Presses will come and go, as it takes a lot to keep a press going consistently for more than 5 years.

2. The major things that drive me nuts about submissions I receive are …
… covering letters. For me there is nothing worse than having to wade through a list of publications, recommendations and other stuff. If the story is good, then I might want to know more about the writer. I judge stories based on the words on the page, and the less I know about a writer before I start reading, the better.

3. The worst thing that ever happened to me at a con was …
… during the SwanCon 17 Waking Nightmares presentation. My first con, my first con related injury. The short version is that I got up to get some air, walked into a door and bled everywhere.

4. If I could be a fictional character for a day, I would be …
… Oh, that’s tough. William Miller would probably be my first pic (the lead character in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical Almost Famous). Get to hang out with musicians, talk with Lester Bangs, and write for Rolling Stone magazine back when it was worth reading. There are a bunch of fictitious characters that I like, but I’d rather be myself hanging out with them than be them.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
Churros, and rich chocolate sauce. And more churros. Otherwise fresh doughnuts with sugar and cinnamon, straight from the fryer.

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Yes! Lezli is our Aussie nom-nom-nominee for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer! Fingers crossed for AussieCon 4! Her qualifying story is Idle Roomer, written with the legendary Mike Resnick for Clarkesworld. She was an Aurealis Awards finalist in 2009 for the novelette Soulmates (also written with Mike Resnick). She sold eight stories to professional US markets such as Analog and Asimov’s, since October 2008 and is well and truly on the scene.

Here she answers my random questions.

1. I hate being a writer when …
…I don’t have the time to actually write.

Writing has been an escape for me, and also a source of fulfillment and enjoyment too. And I’ve had a hell of a lot of unavoidable distractions that have kept me from my stories lately, including moving house twice, my computer deleting many of my files or corrupting them in a system failure, and I’ve been doing a lot of overtime at my day job.

I’m looking forward to a more productive – and settled – second half of the year. Now that I’ve discovered writing, I know what I’m missing in my life when I can’t write: my creative outlet.

2. What did you do when you found out you’d made it to the Campbell short list?
Oh, my answer to this question is quite boring! I was home alone, and I was unable to contact my family as they were out at the movies, and my frequent writing collaborator (Mike Resnick) was asleep -I literally couldn’t tell anyone for a couple of hours, and I couldn’t broadcast my happiness online because I had to keep quiet until the official press release. So I broke out the chocolate and alternated between grinning like an idiot and pinching myself to see if it was real.

3. The story idea I am most embarrassed by is …
… the one I thought was so moving and also very unique, only to discover it had been written (quite famously, but unheard of to me) before. Oh dear! I remember I was so very excited by it, and was discussing it enthusiastically with another writer, and they gently (with amusement) broke the news to me that it won’t be my next masterpiece. I grin now when I remember it, but I remember blushing profusely then.

4. What do you do with your rejection slips?
I’ve never received a physical rejection ship. But to answer your question, I’d probably frame the first one, and put it on my desk as an incentive to do better with my writing, and then file the rest away. (As a similar incentive, I’ve framed the page from the Aurealis Awards booklet that shows my nomination.)

That’s not to say I’ve never received a story rejection. My third collaboration with Mike Resnick was rejected, however the rejection was done via email. I kept the email filed on my computer, but we both believed the best response to a rejection was to submit the story to another publisher.

It sold to that publisher.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or Danishes?
The simple pleasures in life: Cinnamon donuts. Mmmmmm….

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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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