Sunday, December 24, 2006

Book of Shadows

My contributor's copy (and a copy I bought for Mum for Chrissie) arrived in the post this week and it looks fantastic.

For those who don't know, Book of Shadows is a compilation of stories published in Shadowed Realms.

After the edition my story, "Ad Infinitum", was published, the editors changed the maximum word count to 1,000, which means most of the stories in BoS are perfect for busy people!

My story sits alongside a host of dark fiction heavy-hitters, including Poppy Z Brite, Terry Dowling, Robert Hood, Stephen Dedman, Kurt Newton, Greg Beatty, Martin Livings, Lee Battersby, Josh Rountree, Mikal Trimm and Melissa Marr.

And for what it's worth to those outside the speculative fiction community, Brimstone is the only Australian publisher dedicated to dark fiction -- so it's worth supporting them.

You can buy it here, so what are you waiting for!

(You can read more about Brimstone Press here).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The day that Christmas died

To get you in the mood for Christmas, here's "No Man's Land" a story I wrote a couple of years back for Cafe Doom.

My great grandad always scared me. He died when I was 10. I’d never known him as a father, or even a grandfather. I’d never seen him in his prime, storming a machine gun post in Ypres. Even my older brothers had seen him when he still had two brain cells to rub together. But to me he was just this scary, smelly thing my parents rolled out for Christmas, Easter and Remembrance Day.

"Go and give Pop a kiss," they’d say, and I’d shudder.

He smelt of death. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that’s what I think of now. He was a man on the verge of death, and a man who had dealt death with his own hands.

Read on...

Friday, December 15, 2006

First Newsvine article!

Just wrote my first Newsvine article, on the Black Christmas kerfuffle.

You can check it out here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don't give up on your stories!

Found out yesterday that Espresso Fiction is going to publish my short story, "Pine Coffin, Folded Flag", on January 23.

This has been a long, long journey for this piece. I really care about it, I've always liked it, I stuck with it and I've finally found a home for it.

The story of a tortured Vietnam War draft dodger started life back in 2000 as "Have Spade, Will Travel", became "The Gravedigger's Apprentice" before finally becoming "Pine Coffin, Folded Flag".

Along with the title, the text has gradually been polished over the years, and the end changed slightly.

It was shortlisted for a short story competition (I think the Alan Marshall one), attracted a 'nice' rejection note from Meanjin, made the short-list with Gambara, and now will finally be published.

So if you really care about a story, never give up on it!

Interview with Brimstone Press co-founder

Shane Jiraiya Cummings had this to say when I asked him why Brimstone Press decided to launch with two anthologies...

Leading with these titles is a step to gain wider recognition for the form, the genre, and these writers. Establishing a readership in the wider community requires someone to take that first step and expose the talents of these writers. If Brimstone Press didn't do it, who would? There is a tremendous wealth of ability in the small press speculative genres - horror, fantasy, and science fiction. We're looking to tap into this undercurrent of talent.

Read the full feature here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Getting out there with Digg and Newsvine

I've recently joined the Digg and Newsvine communities. I've also just started 'Horror on the Vine' -- a horror-themed Newsvine group -- so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

You can find me at Newsvine here, Digg here, and Horror on the Vine here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Originality: in the eye of the beholder

Originality ... Bartlett got the jump on Romero
One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is to have what you think is an amazingly original idea, only to find it has already been done.

It has happened to me on numerous occasions. Maybe I should get out more... or less, given that one theory is that in the always-connected society, we're all being exposed to pretty much the same information, so therefore we're more likely to come up with the same ideas.

Rob Hood had these words of consolation for me, which I'm sure he won't mind me sharing with you...

"Originality comes from the way an individual author reworks the ideas and plot elements, and, most importantly, the characters he/she creates to carry the action. In Shakespeare's time the idea of writing a 'new' story in the modern sense was considered ridiculous and worthless. Stories carried tradition; the beauty and significance was found in the way the old ideas were filtered through a contemporary sensibility. Shakespeare never wrote a single 'original' story, yet he was and is one of the most original authors ever to have put pen to paper!"

Luckily for British director Michael Bartlett, he got the jump on horror-meister George Romero: The Zombie Diaries is finished, while Romero's Diary of the Dead has only just gone into production.

You can read what Bartlett had to say about the Romero link here, and the full feature here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

'Summit' published by Bright Light Multimedia

I've just discovered that my short story "Summit" - about a climber who has to deal with the anguish of almost climbing Mt Everest - was featured in the August edition of Brilliant! (newsletter of Bright Light Multimedia and the Bright Light Cafe).

Publishers Barbara Llewellyn and Rod Kirkham write: "Gary's story is inspiring and heart-warming and we feel sure many people will relate to it on a very personal level even if you, like us, have never climbed Mount Everest."

Click here to read "Summit".

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I've been to London to visit the King!

I've just returned from a visit to London to see Stephen King! It was a good night, maybe a little bit more stage-managed than I'd hoped it would be (but not really more stage-managed than I'd expected).

It would have been good to get a book signed but it was totally feral. People were lining up before King had even finished speaking, which I reckon was pretty rude. My friend Derek and I were saying King should've asked people in the queue 'What was the last thing I said?' and if they couldn't answer, send them to the back of the queue! Besides, it's really just a scribble, it's not as though an autographed edition means you're King's best buddy or anything.

You can read about it at Articulate, but there were also a few tidbits I didn't have room for...

On sobriety...

"I think I feel more creative. You know, I don't want to sound like a Drug Free America ad or anything, but I think that it's taken some time for me to get entirely in the clear but it's like you go through a period of [inaudible] after everything's out of your system where you're feeling a little bit flat, you know like a glass of seltzer water where all the bubbles have departed, but now I feel like myself again, only with wrinkles added, but the ideas come when the ideas come and when they don't come I don't worry about it because I've got some stored away. I don't use a notebook, I feel like the good ones will stick around and the bad ones will go away on their own, if I had a bad notebook it would be full of bad ideas for the most part."

How 'Misery' started...

"That story was begun long-hand, 'The Annie Wilkes 1st Edition', on a trip to England. My wife and I were staying at Brown's Hotel at that time and jetlag got to me and I couldn't sleep and I went downstairs and I said to the guy, the night manager, 'Is there a place where I could write?' and he said, 'Yeah', and there was a desk between the ground floor and the first floor. Nice, beautiful desk. And I said 'Could I have a pot of tea?' and he said 'Right with you sir' and I started to write and I had a great time, it was like old times.

"I had a notebook, writing, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes because you could in that day - and in those days people smoked in hospital waiting rooms, what the hell, what ho, have another butt, have another lager, what the hell - so I'm writing away and when I finished about six hours had gone and so had the night, I'd written the whole night away and the night manager said 'That's a famous desk you've been writing on, Rudyard Kipling died at that desk', and I said, 'Whoa, get me outta here'. But apparently he stayed at Brown's Hotel and they found him there, writing face down on the wood."

On Tom Clancy...

"There's no sense writing about the same thing the same way twice. When you've got one book on that subject you don't need another one - that's Tom Clancy's job not mine. (crowd laughs) That was bitchy, wasn't it? (King makes hissing cat noise) What the hell, he'll survive. He's out there in Connecticut in his estate, behind the Sherman tank. Everybody thinks it's just a dummy, but nobody's really sure."

You can listen to an edited version of the night's events at The Times website.

I'm also going to post my own recording, which is unedited. (I'm not sure how much they cut - but I know they cut the stuff where King was talking about the prospect of a plane crashing on the building, probably because it wouldn't have made much sense).

[Interview - MP3]

[Q & A session - MP3]

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Horror fans rate their favourite films

In honour of Halloween, I asked various film buffs, horror writers and editors to name their favourite horror film and explain why it's so good, in 100 words or less.

You can read the list at Articulate.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pop art Eamon!


Created this Warholesque take on Eamon using a fantastic, easy-to-understand Photoshop tutorial by Melissa Clifton.

(You can check out the large version here)

'Feast or Famine' podcast

Foreign correspondents Don and Rick are lured up Sikaram mountain, deep in Afghanistan’s badlands, by the promise of an exclusive interview with one of the nation’s most feared warlords. When an avalanche traps the two men in a bunker, their gruesome fight for survival begins.

Listen to the story and an interview with me at The Writing Show.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Writing Show Halloween special under way

Over at The Writing Show, the Halloween special is well under way.

Kaaron Warren reads her short story "The Gibbet Bell".

Robert Hood reads his short story "Peripheral Movement in the Leaves Under an Orange Tree".

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Comic of the Week: on hold

I'm having troubles keeping up with Comic of the Week, so I'm going to put it on hold for the moment.

Sorry for any inconvenience!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Horror Day interview

On Friday I was interviewed by ABC 612's Steve Austin about Horror Day.

If you missed the interview, you can listen here.

[Listen - MP3] [Listen - Real] [Listen - WinMedia]

Comic of the Week: Miserable Mothers 2056

(Edit 21/10: the big version of this was screwing up my template, so I've shrunk it. However, you can view the big version here).


To learn more about the Miserable Motherf***ers, go here.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

'Ad Infinitum' all over again

My story "Ad Infinitum", which originally appeared in Shadowed Realms way back in September 2004, has been re-released.

Book of Shadows (vol 1) also features Poppy Z Brite, Terry Dowling, Robert Hood, Stephen Dedman, Kurt Newton, Greg Beatty, Martin Livings, Lee Battersby, Josh Rountree, Mikal Trimm, Melissa Marr.

I've got a soft spot for "Ad Infinitum" -- it was my first sale and gave me a lot of confidence to try and sell more stories -- so it's good to see it back in circulation.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Horror Day!

In honour of the occasion, I thought I'd throw some horror-related stuff together.

For a start, head over to Articulate, where I've done a bit of a Horror Day wrap.

Interviews with Australian horror Writers

Q & A: An Australian werewolf (lover) in London (June 2006)

Q & A: The three personalities of Edwina Grey (June 2006)

Rocky Wood: getting stuck into Stephen King (June 2006)

Other horror-related features

Q&A: 'Goosebumps' creator R L Stine (September 2006)

And the lurch goes on... (May 2006)

At work with Ellen Datlow (May 2006)

When Evil Reigns: horror on a budget (May 2006)

Horror re-makes: one more for the road (April 2006)

The life and deaths of Jason Voorhees (January 2006)

Horror-themed comics

An Interview With Stephen King

An Interview With David Malouf (The link is tenuous, but it's there!)

Bob the 'Postal' Worker (And even more tenuous)

Some of my horror fiction

To The Gates of Hell (Aug 2006): The rich will live forever: that was the promise. But Roy's attempt to escape a dying planet is complicated by a violent rebellion.

Black (Apr 2006): A scientist discovers the ultimate shade of black, with horrifying results.

No Man's Land (Dec 2004): A World War I veteran reflects on a harrowing Christmas on the front line.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

'Satan's Scribe' out now

Issue 6 of Ripples Magazine is out now, featuring my apocalyptic short "Satan's Scribe".

For more, see Credits.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fear of losing it

This month's Writing Queensland is quite down-beat (which I wouldn't dare complain about after my rant a couple of months ago).

There's my aforesaid rant in the letters section, there's a horrifying article by an anonymous writer who, despite a $20,000 advance and a $10,000 writers' grant was almost edited out of existence, and then Adair Jones takes a look at the Kaavya Viswanathan saga.

It got me thinking again about why we write.

I still think there's a bit of an ego aspect there -- having people validate your mode of expression.

There's also the sheer joy of immersing yourself in a world of your own creation. It's like reading, but even more fun.

And then there's the satisfaction of getting better at it (but I think this goes back to the ego thing).

But what I've been thinking about lately is fear of losing the story.

Before my son was born I had ideas for stories and I did some writing, but I think I was scared of fucking it up, of not being able to properly communicate the vision that was so clear in my mind.

(This, coupled with the fact that I never had an Amiga as a kid, manifested itself as many wasted hours playing Ghost Recon and Fifa 2003).

Now, however, with so little time to write, it's the fear of losing the story.

You can jot down the ideas, but I don't think that's enough. For me at least, I feel if I don't start writing when the idea is burning brightly, I'll lose the feel of the story. And once it's gone, it's never really the same.

(Although, given that I could be writing the story right now instead of crapping on here, maybe I'm still scared of fucking it up!)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Talking cats

This has nothing to do with writing but is just hilarious (and the last one is a bit freaky).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Comic of the Week: Interview With a Generic Australian Widow

If you enjoyed this comic, you may also like Interview With an Up-and-Coming Australian author and 'An Interview With Wraith Picket'.

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Halloween special: tentative running order

Paula Berinstein from The Writing Show emailed with a tentative running order for the Halloween special:

Day 1, October 25th: Rob Hood
Day 2, October 26th: Kaaron Warren
Day 3, October 27th: Gary Kemble
Day 4, October 28th: Jason Nahrung
Day 5, October 29th: Chuck McKenzie
Day 6, October 30th: Leigh Blackmore
Day 7, October 31st: Stephen Studach

Because The Writing Show is based in the US, the dates are +1 where we are.

Paula says she has selected the music for all the readings and has begun integrating it and the effects into the audio.

Can't wait to hear the readings.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

Jasper Fforde and R L Stine

My interviews with Jasper Fforde and R L Stine are both now available over at Articulate.

They were both really good to talk to -- and both clearly revelling in their lives as professional writers.

This quote from Fforde really struck a chord with me:
"You write and you want to be published but I think if you write only wanting to be published you're doing it for entirely the wrong reason and it will probably show. I think the thing about writing is to perhaps assume that you won't be published, that there's a strong possibility you will never be published, and if you can carry on writing with that in mind then you're clearly doing it for the right sort of reasons."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

SF in kids' books

I've been thinking alot lately about specfic references in TV ads and kids books. Specifically, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, by Dr Seuss.

I'll give you the short version: the Cat leaves a pink ring in the bath. To get rid of it, he wipes it off with a towel, but then it's on the towel. Anyway, in the course of trying to get the stain off various items and out of the house, he introduces 'Little Cat A', who lives in his red and white striped hat. And in Little Cat A's hat lives Little Cat B.

Eventually, every speck of snow outside the house is pink, and so the Cat calls on his final hope, Little Cat Z (who, of course, lives in the hat of Little Cat Y).

He says: "Z is too small to see. So don't try. You can not. But Z is the cat who will clean up that spot!"

Z doesn't have a cat in his hat. Instead, he has VOOM.

"Voom is so hard to get,
You never saw anything
Like it, I bet.
Why, Voom cleans up anything
Clean as can be!"

Then he yelled,
"Take your hat off now,
Little Cat Z!
Take the Voom off your head!
Make it clean up the snow!
Hurry! You Little Cat!
One! Two! Three! GO!"

Then the Voom...
It went VOOM!
And, oh boy! What a VOOM!

Now, don't ask me what Voom is.
I never will know.
But, boy! Let me tell you
It DOES clean up snow!

Isn't that cool! I think so. But maybe I've just been reading kids' books too long!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Comic of the Week: Interview With Wraith Picket

This one kinda follows on from Interview With David Malouf and Interview With Stephen King. (Also helps if you're familiar with the Wraith Picket Saga and if you've read The Dark Half!)

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Top 10 stupidest 'As Seen on TV' products

This list is hilarious. My personal fave is the Flowbee vacuum haircutting system (pictured).

Blogger Matt Dinniman notes:

"I had a friend whose mom owned a Flowbee (or similar) haircut system. He looked like his hair was cut by a drunken Edward Scissorhands."

Friday, August 25, 2006

John Birmingham's alternative history

If multiverse theory (upon which John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy hinges) is correct, then somewhere out there is a parallel universe where Birmingham's He Died With a Felafel in His Hand didn't become a cult classic, and rather than gleefully penning airport thrillers he's still grinding out an existence as a successful but poor freelance journalist.

Read on...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

John Birmingham: full transcript

Here's the transcript of my interview with Final Impact author John Birmingham. Feel free to sift through it, or wait for the hack 'n' slash version in Articulate later this week!

I remember when Weapons of Choice came out you said you sent out your finished draft and it came back with a massive note...

"An editor's note, at least 15,000 words long, about exactly where I had screwed up and what would be necessary to make this even vaguely publishable. It was a sobering experience."

What did you learn that you could then apply to Designated Targets and Final Impact?

"I learnt a lot. That was the interesting thing. I probably learnt more writing the mass market genre books than I'd previously learned in ten years of doing middle-brow non-fiction. Apart from the historical facts I didn't learn a lot when I was doing Leviathan because as a form of writing it was no different than anything I'd done before, it was just bigger. Whereas with the Weapons series of books it was completely new to me. I'd read a lot of these books because I do a lot of flying and like anybody else I find them impossible to resist but I'd never written them and I went in with a dumb-arse arrogance that they would be as easy to write as they are to read and the long, long editorial note disabused me of that idea.

"I learned that you can't just make it up as you go. I remember reading, 15-20 years ago Stephen King was talking about how he'd written The Stand, which was one of the great early mass market epics. He eventually re-released it. It started off at 900 pages and then he re-released his director's cut, I think it blew out to 12-1,300. And I read that book three or four times when I was younger and was just impressed by the way he controlled the story. You never got the sense, despite the fact he'd literally created an entire world, you never got the sense that he was lost in it. Whereas I got lost in mine after about twenty pages.

"He had written that his planning for that story consisted of reading a newspaper story about the Patty Hearst kidnappers. He had this flash of an idea if they were all bitten by a snake but the snake had superpowers that would protect them from some proto-bird flu that wiped out the entire population of the world. That was it, from that one, reasonably ridiculous thought he then expanded out to a 1,000 page epic and I thought that's a great idea. So Weapons started from a very similar process. I was reading Matt Reilly's Ice Station when I should have been working on something much more serious and reading that I thought wouldn't it be cool to write a thriller, with aircraft carriers and everything. And because I was writing history at the time, I was writing Leviathan, the idea crossed over in my mind. Wouldn't it be cool to have aircraft carriers before aircraft carriers were even invented - an idea as dumb as King's original seed for what became The Stand.

"Unlike him I didn't have the chops to pull it off. I just sat down and started writing this story for fun at that point, I wasn't going to show it to anybody, because it was fun there was no pressure on to produce a coherent narrative. When it was eventually picked up by American publishers - they picked it up before Australia - I had a contract and an advance and had to start thinking about this in terms of it being an actual job I had to finish, and that was when I came acropper because I hadn't thought out how the story was going to run.

"And in fact the book is affected by that. The first book is unbalanced. The first 45,000 words describe I think 30 minutes of naval combat, and then you jump forward two weeks and you have people sitting around having a chat, and that takes another 30 or 40,000 words, then you jump forward another two weeks and you have some more naval combat so it's a very unevenly paced book and I would do it very differently now if I started all over again.

"I guess the thing I learned hard - it was a hard lesson - was that I have to plot these things out. I actually have to plot these things out with a piece of paper or a laptop or whatever and go, okay, chapter 1, the kidnappers get bitten by the snake, chapter 2, blah blah blah all the way through until the end of the book. And so I do that now, I'd never done that before. I didn't do it with Felafel, I didn't do it with Tassie Babes, I just pretty much let them rip."

Did you stick to your plan pretty much?

"I stuck to the narrative arc. When you plot out a book like that what you construct is a story that arcs from beginning to end and you can think of it like a bridge that carries you through the narrative and the different sub-plots and characters become the struts and wiring that flesh out the structure. So what I learned was to plan that structure properly so that I didn't get three-quarters the way across the bridge and realise I've run out of material and I had no idea how I could get to the other side.

"The other thing I learned after about 18 months was just because I was writing a massive epic that spans decades and basically the globe in terms of its geographics I didn't need to keep up with the entire population of the globe, I didn't need to have six billion characters to make the story work and if you go through from Weapons of Choice to Designated Targets to Final Impact you will see a progressively tighter focus on fewer and fewer characters until at the end Impact has about four or five main characters whereas Weapons had forty or fifty and because of that Impact is a much easier story to read.

"I've just been plotting out the next series of books, I've just signed another three-book deal, I've taken those lessons and planned it out, not just chapter by chapter but scene by scene and I've settled on who my main characters are and I've written detailed biographies for them before I write the first scene. And those bios are quite indepth - there's one that runs to 12,000 words, so I have the characters backstory before they hit the page. It makes a huge difference because you're not left wondering how they're going to react in a situation because you already know your character intimately."

So are two set in the Weapons of Choice...

"Two of them are set in the Weapons universe, one is set on this side of the wormhole, it actually occurs before the battle group gets sucked back to 1942 and the other one will be set probably ten years after Final Impact. So the prequel if you like is almost a straight thriller, it's what I call a sleeping killer story, I'm a huge fan of the sleeping killer genre (eg Bourne Identity, Long Kiss Goodnight, Total Recall). It's where somebody comes into the world not knowing who they are, they're revealed very quickly to be a ruthless killing machine - what's not to love about that scenario?

"I'm using that as the engine of the prequel but the whole book is really a reflection on what happens to societies that spend 20 years fighting a war - you see that coming through in the Weapons of Choice books, you see it in the emotionless, almost ethically devoid way in which the 21st century go about making war. So what wanted to do was set a story in their world, because I've had a lot of harassment from fans and stalkers about what that world is like. To me it was just an opportunity to make a lot of jokes, like you find out Jerry Springer is a senator in that world and sits on the armed forces committee with Bill O'Reilly from Fox News. It's just a throwaway line but it's a great little in-joke. Rupert Murdoch is still alive, probably living off organ transplants and other people's stem cells by that point.

Is that part of the attraction of writing alternative history? Having fun with historical characters?

"Well see the whole thing started as fun. Leviathan was no fun, that was calculated effort to escape the gravitational pull of He Died With A Felafel in His Hand, and there was no fun to be had researching it, it was like doing four PhD theses one after the other, whereas writing these books, once you learn how to do it, writing them is a bit like playing a video game, you sit down at the start of the day and start working the keyboard and on a good day you'll put your head up seven hours later on and forget you haven't had lunch."

Did you already know a lot about World War II?

"No, I had vague recollections of watching Vic Morrow in Combat as a kid, I haven't even watched Final Countdown. A friend of mine, Phil McCormack, saw that movie when he was about 11 or 12, I can recall him telling me about a scene from it where jet-powered Corsairs shoot down a Japanese Zero, Phil was really impressed by that. I took away the very strong impression they didn't have any special effects budget because that's about all that happened in the movie. I didn't read a lot before I had to sit down and do the books. I probably had no more general knowledge than anybody else. You absorb a bit through mass culture but I'd never studied it at university or [inaudible] which meant when I sat down to do Weapons of Choice I spent about 12 months giving myself a degree in World War II history, specifically about Midway.

"I also had to spend a couple of months learning how to build a time machine. I was fairly lucky, Professor Paul Davies wrote a book just as I was setting out on my research called How To Build a Time Machine...

"I read this thing which was beautifully written and simplified the whole process, I still had to read it six times and I had something like 40 or 50 yellow sticky notes coming out of the book, 'this is where they create the quark-gluon plasma', I managed to hold it together in my head long enough to write the scene, which took about 12 days as I recall. So there was an enormous amount of technical and historic research.

"I often say it's lucky I'm married now because if I was chasing some chick and she got a look at my bookshelf, I'd never get laid again."

You also had to research advanced weaponary?

"Yeah, that was relatively easy to do. God bless the web, everything is out there now. Even the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency, which the mad scientist works for, has its own website, very kindly has all of the whizbang gear that they're working on so it was [inaudible]

"...Weapons was quite widely read in Defence circles in Canberra and they wanted me to come in and have a chat about what cool gear they should be investing in. I went in, it was fantastic, we had morning tea, sticky buns, coffee and sat around talking about wars of the future."

Did they just invite you as a guest because you're obviously interested in that stuff?

"No, these guys, they're job was to sit around thinking about literally how to fight wars in the future and they'd read the book and quite liked what they saw and asked me to come in and have a bit of a chat. I imagine they do it to lots of different people working in lots of different fields. It was a bit of a headspin, I must say, but it was a very diverting way to spend a morning and it reminds me, I'm supposed to write them a couple of thousand words and send it down to them at some point. I should get onto it."

Do you ever consider your own alternate history? What would've happened if Felafel hadn't been successful?

"Sometimes I do, yeah. I quite like the alternative worlds theory. It's a great escape. You're having a particularly rough day, it's nice to imagine a world where your deadlines have always been met, your bank balance is always full, there's a long line of nubile soap stars who want nothing more than to date you and be on their way. Unfortunately I'm not sure it works that way but there is the other alternative too, which is that things may not have turned out as well as they did.

"Felafel was written when I was teetering on the edge of abject failure as a writer because I'd been writing for about six or seven years at the point that book came out. All I wanted to do was work for magazines. I had no intention of ever writing books, no interest in it, and I'd got myself to a position where I was probably one of the most successful freelancers in the country. I could ring up pretty much any magazine I wanted to and pitch a story and they'd take it because within the confines of the industry, which is quite a little inward-looking village in Australia, I had a good reputation.

"Having said that, just before Felafel came out a couple of magazines I worked for folded, a couple of the editors moved on and all of a sudden I was looking at my income stream contracting to a trickle and it wasn't that much of fucking mighty river to begin with. I think even at the height of my 'success' as a freelancer I was making about $12 grand a year and trying to live in Sydney on $12 grand a year is a big fucking ask. You can see how I accumulated all that life experience for Felafel when you see how little money I made through my 20s, so I often wonder what would've happened if either I hadn't written the book or it hadn't been a success.

"And it wasn't a success for six months. For six months it just died in the arse really. It wasn't that nobody would buy it, the shops wouldn't even stock it. Poor old Michael Duffy looked like he was going to do his dough cold, and then for whatever reason it began to sell and then it took off and exploded.

"But I guess I do know what the alternative would have been. I would have ended up like some of my writer friends who are really struggling to get by, selling fudge at the markets on the weekends to pay their electricity bill. You can do that stuff when you're in your 20s and you're single and childless and have no-one to look after or to blame but yourself but once you enter a serious relationship and start having kids then all of a sudden there are other people depending on you and the equation gets pretty fucking grim very quickly.

"So I actually don't care to think about the downside alternatives, what would've happened if Felafel wasn't written or just came out and died, which is the fate of most books, 80 per cent of them these days."

Cheeseburger Gothic seems like a nice community. It's quite personal. Do you think that's the way of the future, with authors making themselves more accessible to their fans?

"It seems to be. It will be for some and not for others. A lot of authors don't cope very well with the real world, that's why they became authors. They're much better off shut up in a little room somewhere living inside their head, unless their spectacular talents it makes it very difficult for them because they find it hard pimping themselves on the publicity trail, and that makes a huge difference to sales, which affects how comfortably you get to live as a writer.

"I suspect that a lot of authors five or six years from now will have their own blogs, particularly the genre authors. There's quite a few science fiction and speculative fiction writers maintaining their own sites, which is not surprising when you think about it, you figure they're going to be au fait with new technology. Whether or not someone like Helen Garner will ever do it, I don't know.

"I don't know whether you've been to many writers festival but there's a pretty high freak content in the audience, whether or not you'd want to be exposed to them is a big unanswered question. I like the Burger because it doesn't actually require that much input from me to keep ticking over. There are enough people visiting it every day and they have now become comfortable enough with each other that what frequently happens is I'll start some thread of a discussion and the guys will just run off with it for days at a time. We've had some threads that run to 200 messages by the time they're finished [inaudible]... it very much is a marketplace of ideas.

Also the fan fiction?

"The fan fiction, that grew out of the fact that there were some editorial staffing changes at my American publisher which meant the publication of Final Impact in the US was going to be put back by six months and that was really a bit long to leave people with nothing to read in that particular fictional world so I didn't want to write anything but I just, a couple of people had inquired about whether I'd be okay with fan fiction and some people had done some pretty weird stuff.

"One guy on his computer created an illustration where he took the picture of the marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and turned it into the moon and put them into combat suits and said it was his vision of what my book looked like and obviously a lot of work had gone into it [inaudible] ...

"I don't get uptight about intellectual property issues - it's not like they'd taken the characters and published their own book with a rival publisher, it's just a bit of fun on a website and if anything it keeps the story at the forefront of people's minds.

I wanted to ask you about your casting of Prince Harry as an SAS hero. Obviously it's a few years ago now that you made that decision, but do you think he was getting a bit of a rough trot or was it just a bit of fun.

"I must say I did feel a bit sorry for Harry because he likes a drink, he likes a smoke, he likes a good looking girl - who doesn't? What was the fucking issue. He was a teenager and he was getting loaded up with a shitload of responsibility and hassles that really shouldn't be dropped on to anybody at that age.

"That's not why I put him in the book, I put him in because I thought it would be funny. It was originally just a little joke for me. I can't even recall where the idea first came from, but having decided to do it he turned into one of my favourite characters and spookily enough the real-world Harry is becoming more and more like the narrative Harry with every day that passes."

I also wanted to ask you about reviews. When Weapons of Choice came out I checked out a couple of reviews and I was almost put off because they made a big deal of the fact that you'd named people after Australian literary identities and the social interplay between the 'temps and the uptimers, which is all a part of it, but do you think it's sort of almost over-intellectualising it?

"You cannot control how people react to what you write, that's a lesson I learnt a long time ago. I've seen some frankly bizarre interpretations of my books, layers of meaning [inaudible] ... but if they're there for them, who am I to say otherwise.

"You can approach the Weapons of Choice series on a number of levels. In the US, because I had no background as a humour writer, when it came out people did not see it against that personal history, they just read the books straight. They didn't get a lot of the jokes because they didn't see the jokes and it was odd actually to see the different reactions from the US to Australia and to a lesser extent British readers.

"They were much more serious about the stories than anybody here, an example being the fact that I'd named the aircraft character after Hillary Clinton, which to me was just a great joke, for a lot of American readers it was totally unacceptable, 'you should never have done it, and I'll never read another of your Goddamn books ever again'. They took it really, really badly.

"I have since come to understand their psychology a little more and I think as the books continued to come out in the US people, reviewers in particular, have come to understand there's a large element of satire in them and perhaps they shouldn't take those things quite so seriously."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Luke C Jackson on 'Sleeper'

Low budget horror film-maker/YA novelist Luke C Jackson has just released his first spy-kid-lit novel, Sleeper.

You can read all about it here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Read 'Lines in the Snow'

You can read an excerpt here -- to read the whole story you need to subscribe!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Read 'To The Gates of Hell'

Over at The Specusphere you can read my science fiction/horror story "To The Gates of Hell".

Busy, busy, busy

Kemblogging time has been short lately due to work commitments.

We're taking a new tack with Articulate, trying to increase the breadth and depth of our arts coverage. Let us know what you think.

In the coming weeks I'll be interviewing R L Stine, John Birmingham and Jasper Fforde, so if there are any tidbits I don't have room to put in the features I write, I'll be sure to post them here.

I've also been trying to practice my "Feast or Famine" reading for The Writing Show Halloween special -- bit nervous about having to do an Afghan accent.

In the meantime, Comic of the Week will continue!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

1% inspiration, 98% perspiration, 1% luck

The latest edition of Writing Queensland has left me feeling a little exasperated.

In the letters section Chris Pearce writes...

"I have a finished, polished manuscript, a favourable professional reader's report and some excellent unsolicited comments from 18 general readers ... five of whom couldn't put it down and the other 13 really enjoyed it."

He then goes on to say that he has sent it to 35-40 agents and publishers in the past two years, and no-one is interested.

Pearce has nailed down the problem - far more people writing manuscripts, far fewing being published - but there is still an air of frustration about the letter.

So too with GS Manson, who talks of "a culture of arrogance and rudeness" among literary agents.

(I did get quite a laugh from Manson's assessment of what is being published: "bourgeois twits have a year in Provence, quirky travel books by ex-journos that say nothing much about anything except themselves, heart-rending but colourful family histories over three generations or whatever, 57 varieties of serial killer...").

Then the opening of a feature by Tiana Templeman (Absolutely Faking It)...

"Ever had a daydream which goes something like this? You start writing your first book, send a couple of chapters off to a major publishing house and they call you straight back with an offer to publish. It certainly sounds familiar to me - except for one major difference. My daydream became reality and - with some hard work, a few tips and tricks and just a little bit of luck - it can for you too!"

Yes, it can. And if I buy a ticket in the lottery this weekend, with a bit of luck, I could win. I could, but it's highly unlikely.

As Rhonda Whitton points out in her feature, at any one time there are 5,000 unsolicited manuscripts sitting on the desks of Australian publishers. Of these, maybe four or five will ever be published!

She goes on to suggest would-be novelists cut their teeth on a non-fiction manuscript, because non-fiction is big at the moment. I think this is akin to telling someone who has no interest in romance fiction to try writing a romance manuscript. There is a lot of hard work involved in getting a manuscript to a publishable standard, and in less you have real passion about what you're writing, there's no point.

There seems to be a perception that if you jump through all the hoops, you'll get published. I think this is an unrealistic expectation.

A lot of would-be novelists are looking for that magic bullet, and you're probably expecting me to say there isn't one. But there is - luck. Having the right manuscript in front of the right person at the right time.

Yes, you make your own luck. You polish your work to as high a standard as possible and you put it out there. But I still think you need a dash of serendipity.

I'm not saying we should all give up, I just think aspiring writers, myself included, need to be realistic about our goals.

I think there also needs to be a bit of honesty from the industry that is feeding off the hopes and dreams of would-be novelists.

Manuscript assessors, workshops, writing groups all play a role, but even if you do everything right, the odds are still stacked well and truly against you.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Comic of the Week: Interview with Stephen King

The original version of this comic, by Derek Lane and David Beutel, was kind of a 'reply' to 'Interview with David Malouf'.

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