A-Z challenge, ANZAC, New Zealand

V is for View

Yesterday was the 100th ANZAC day commemorating all Australian and New Zealand troops who have served overseas. I do my best to get to a service, whether it’s dawn or a little later as I’ve known many men and women who’ve served overseas, but primarily because it’s the day of the year I most associate with my Grandfather, who died 14 years ago. He served in the second world war before coming home and starting his family. They played taps at his funeral, and I can remember all the servicemen standing, and crying so hard it hurt. I can’t hear taps without welling up, so I am always a bit of a mess at ANZAC services.

Anyway, this year we were away camping with our homeschool group, out in the middle of nowhere. My brothers family and I tossed around the idea of driving back into civilization for the service, but then we decided to have our own. Commemorate in a way I know Grandad would have respected.

There is a massive hill at this camp ground, and in the pre-dawn chill, my brother, sister-in-law, nephews and two of my daughters** tramped up to the top with a lantern to shed a little light on the way. We stood at the peak of the hill and watched light bathe the hills and valleys, we watched the mist rising, we listened as that moment came when there was enough sun to spark life into the land and the birds began to chirp and the sheep to baa. It was majestic.

Often the service ends with planes passing over the memorial. Well, we had a flock of birds pass by, creating a natural end to our commemoration.

And so today I give you my view on ANZAC morning. The photos don’t do it justice, but I have the memory firmly in mind.

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*the third would have come but she’d spent the night in another families tent and I didn’t want to wake anyone up.

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authors, interview, life, reading, writing

A Few Assorted Things

Hey! Long time no blog right? I’ve been having a bit of a rough patch and everything is a tad hard right now. I’m in the final slog of my Post Grad Diploma (6 weeks to go!!! maybe less, I’m trying not to think about that too hard!). There isn’t an awful lot of the good writing stuff going on while I try to hold myself together and knock out final assignments, but there IS a light at the end of the tunnel and I can’t wait to get there!!!

So in the meantime, here are a couple things you might be interested in!

The lovely Leigh K. Hunt has Tijuana Nights, the first book in her Nights series, for free at Amazon right now! GO grab it quick because I think it closes really soon. 

Also, the Audio version of Baby Teeth is out now thanks to the awesome people at Dynamic Ram Audio Productions! If you have something creepy a kid has said to share, go comment on this post to have a chance to win your own copy!

And finally, I’m sharing a link for a post I’ve not read the entirety of, but it’s an interview with Beth Morey who is a very talented artist and writer. Her fierce determination to grow and become, and her passion for life are things I find really inspirational. Plus, she’s just a great person. 

I hope everyone else is doing great! I’m hoping to have some fun writing related stuff to share with you in the near future, but for now it’s back to the grindstone – hey, maybe I can finish these last assignments early? lol How can it almost be the end of August?? 

authors, interview, Uncategorized, writing

Introducing Richard Parry

So, last month he posted an interview with me, it was only fair that I get to return the favour! Of course, coming up with questions that weren’t carbon copies of his was harder than I expected. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself – what makes Richard Parry, Author, tick?

Without wanting to sound too much like an asshole, the short answer is “interesting things.”

If I look at life and how it’s laid out, I want to have a set of good stories to tell at the end of it.  Things I’ve done, and maybe a few things that have made the world a better place (or at least, not a worse place).

It’d suck to reach the end of your life and look back and have nothing but a few faded Polaroids and some bitter memories to show for it, so I’ve tried to do things Less Ordinary.  Prior to writing, I tried to climb corporate ladders, got a black belt in karate, and travelled a bit.  Those things were cool, but I felt like something was missing.

A few years ago I had a sort of epiphany that went a little like this: I really like stories.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could share some of the ideas kicking around in my head, and tell stories for others?

I’m kind of hedging with the Cheroke.  “The world is full of stories, and sometimes they allow themselves to be told.

Are there any particular themes that crop up in your stories, or you more of an action-kill-slash theme-what-theme kind of writer?

A little while ago I read On Writing, by Stephen King.  You can love or hate the man (I’m somewhere in the middle), but you can’t dispute that he’s a master of the craft.  In that book, he talks about writing what you know – with specific references (if memory serves) to people like Grisham.  As I interpret his point, the thing is you need to write from what you know, and what interests you.

The things that I know are people, and a little bit of kung fu.

  • What I’d like to be able to do is tell you a story where someone, who is pretty ordinary – maybe a little bit like you, or me, or your kid, or that guy from work – has to overcome something pretty hard.  It should have a happy ending, but that doesn’t mean riding off into the sunset.
  • One of the ways I’ve figured to make journeys hard is to overcome obstacles.  Those obstacles need to be relative to the protagonist; it’s not really gripping reading if the main character is 290 pounds and has to take over a child care facility.  Unless he slips on a banana sandwich, he’s unlikely to be stretched in that situation.

Coupling those two things with my love of science fiction, martial arts, and bad action movies, the sorts of things I write about seem to follow a more visual style – almost a screenplay, ready for a movie (…and probably an action movie with a high FX budget).  I’m not trying to give you the depth of Russian romantic literature: I’m trying to give you a really good time, an exciting read, with people you can identify with, root for, or hate.

For the most part, it seems to be working.  I’ve asked people who they most identify with in Night’s Favour, and the answers are totally across the board.  To me this sounds good: those people are different enough to be unique, and resonate in different ways with different readers.  I love that.

Do they get there on purpose, or without conscious effort?

For the most part.  So here’s the thing: when I write, I kinda know what the ending might look like, but I don’t describe it too much.  Just a rough outline – does the girl get the boy?  Is the villain overcome?  And how do I make this worthwhile for the reader to have come this far – how is the ending happy?  But I’m never married to it; the ending that was written for Night’s Favour ended up being a little different to how it was originally planned.

I let the people in it tell their own story.  I probably spend the most time up front coming up with the people, and what their motivations are; conversly, I spend the least time coming up with the plot.  It’s a hard lesson, but I learned it: your people can’t be real if you tell them what to do.  They can only be real if they interact with each other, and grow as the story progresses.

There’s a lot of mental energy used up when I’m writing trying to make sure that the characters continually talk.  When I’m not writing, they’re all acting out scenes in my head – when I’m on the train, when I’m in a boring meeting, whatever.  Most of those scenes never make it into a book, they’re like random what-if slices.  But it’s not something I focus on – this shit just happens.  I couldn’t turn it off if I tried.

Interesting factoid: my brain chemistry is at war with itself right now.  I’ve finished Night’s Favour, and I’m happy where I left that story.  Upgrade has its own people and that story is unwinding at its own pace.  However, I have a sequel to Night’s Favour kicking around in my head, and Val and John and Danny and Carlisle keep talking to each other about it.  Then Mason and Carter want a piece so they can save a dying planet (but they don’t know it yet).  And I’ve also sketched out a new setting, a sort of steampunk-meets-A-Wizard-of-Earthsea, and the heroine of that is trying to get my attention.

After finishing Night’s Favour, I got sad for a while, because I felt like I’d got to know the people in it, and I likedthem.  It was like leaving a group you hung out with for months, and putting them on the shelf.  Their story was done, and it was the best I could make it, but the people still want to talk.

This is why I drink.

Having initially met you while playing Guild Wars 2, I know that you’re a gamer – which games in particular have stood out to you for their story telling ability?

Yeah.  Ok, there’s a few.

I love games for the stories they can tell, but not many of them do it well.  There’s a million dudebro shooters that are entirely predictable.  But I’m going to shout out to just three games here for what they delivered.

  • Planescape: Torment.  I love you because you made me cry (yes, really).  I had to put this game down for a week before I could come back to it and finish it.  My specific journey as the Nameless One had some pretty rough times, and when it becomes clear what an absolute jackass your character has been I had to take a breather.
  • BioShock (the original).  This one sucker punched me, because it used the medium of the game world as a mechanism for storytelling.  Without wanting to give away spoilers, those of you who understand the significance of “would you kindly…” will get it.  It’d be pretty tricky to tell the same kind of story, give the same impact, if you as the player hadn’t been complicit in the acts of telling that story.  Also, plasmids.  A special mention should be given to the real sequel, Infinite, because they tackled something a little mentally complex and it was a fun ride.
  • The Last of Us.  Maybe the best game I’ve ever played, I dunno.  The real power of this story comes from the relationship between your dude Joel and a teenage girl, Ellie.  They’re both super real to me, and their interaction is perfectly realised.  The thing that makes it is the difficulty of the journey, and standing alongside the two of them as they find their way into each others hearts.  The ending is bittersweet and real, and I wish I could have the experience of playing it throuh again without knowing how it ends.

I know it’s early days in your career just yet, but if you had the chance, what other media would you tackle?

Having touched on my visual-ish style, I’d really like to try writing a screenplay for a movie.  It’s still writing, sure, but the output is on a bigger screen, with some different constraints – the whole thing needs to be done through action and dialogue, and you can’t get insight into someone’s head through a character having a moment of introspection.  I suspect constraints can lead to a more powerful story, if you don’t lose your vision and some pinhead doesn’t cut half the good stuff before it makes it out (the new Total Recall says hi).

For the same reason, I’d also like to give a radio play a crack, but I’m really not sure a market exists for radio plays with a high body count.  There’s a couple podcasts that go in this direction, but I’m not entirely attracted to serialised content in quite the same way.

Finally, just for a little fun: Taking into consideration that it takes certain ways of thinking and seeing the world to love different movies, which five movies best sum you up your personality?

Hm.  This is a different question to, “What are your five favourite movies?”  Tricky.  Let’s see how we go.

  • Blade Runner for its insights into humanity, and what it means to be human.
  • Amelie for how it shows you can be good and giving around the edges of an ordinary life.
  • The Lord of the Rings (yeah, three movies, whatever) for how they describes friendship, loyalty, and doing the things that are hard because they are right.
  • Iron Man for showing it’s possible to stop being an asshole and start changing the world.
  • Finally, Unbreakable for showing there’s a hero inside all of us.

Special thanks to Cassie for finding the time in her hectic life to interview me.  It means a lot – and I hope you found something to like in here.

Richard has passed along a fun story to give you a taster of his writing – if you like it, why not check out his novel Night’s Favour?

Sleepless

 by Richard Parry

The deck thrummed, more feeling than sound.  Jennifer felt it in her teeth.  It was a harsh sensation, like using a mechanical toothbrush with a thrown bearing.  She’d had one of those in Basic, the fluffy end finally breaking off mid-clean and leaving her with coffee breath.

It had been going on for three days.

Or close enough anyway.  It didn’t seem to matter anymore.  She’d stopped counting the days so precisely when McConnolly was found nailed to his bunk.  That might have been yesterday.  If it was the day before, well, the thrumming had been going on for four days.  Hard to tell.

McConnolly, now that was a thing.  It hadn’t looked accidental in any way.  No sir, no one was trying to make his death look like some random act of fate.  That would be easy around here, you could get cycled out an air lock, or caught up in the induction coils for the gate drive.  Accidents happened all the time.  No, this was definitely deliberate.  Big industrial bolts had been fired through his limbs and into the metal sheeting that supported the bunk.  The damndest thing was the look on his face.

He’d been smiling.

She’d done the post mortem herself, tox screens showing clear.  He hadn’t been drugged, which probably meant he was aware of the rivets being driven through his arms and legs.

Running her hand through her hair, she did the mental math.  How many sleep cycles had she missed?  How many meals on the mess deck?  Her eyes wandered to her console, papers and reports scattered on top.  Empty packets of stims lay amongst dirty coffee bulbs.  Ok, so probably four days.

Jennifer watched a pencil on the corner of her console.  It shivered in sympathy with the deck plates, occasionally giving a tiny jump.  The end of the pencil was chewed, teeth marks up and down the shaft.  She could still make out some faded lettering, once proudly proclaiming a Staedler product in bright gold lettering.

The evening after McConnolly’s death, they’d found Munroe.  He was in the mess hall, quite dead, a small pool of blood around his mouth.  He’d managed to eat an entire teapot, including the small porcelain lid.  He’d had to break bits of it up to get it all down, the jagged ends doing some nasty internal damage.  He’d bled out internally through his stomach.  She had collected all the teapot’s pieces into an evidence jar in her office.  After putting them back into some semblance of order, she saw the pot had a Winnie-the-Pooh motif on the outside.

Perhaps it was a gift from one of his kids.  Or for his kids.  It didn’t matter much now.

He’d also been smiling – clearly not feeling the indigestion that had killed him.  If Jennifer had been asked to describe the expression, she would have said, “Dreamy.”

It had gone on like that, crew members dying around her.  Some appeared murdered, like McConnolly, and others appear to have developed habits that killed them, like Munroe.  It didn’t really matter how it happened, but they all died smiling.  The closest thing to tie it all together was the damn thrumming that went throughout the ship, shaking bolts loose, weakening pressure seals, and worst of all, giving Jennifer a headache she couldn’t get away from.  The pain and the stims kept her awake.

Four days.  It was enough to make anyone depressed.  It’s just that they all looked so happy dead.

The alarm shrieked, causing her to jump in her armchair.  The red emergency lighting spun shadows and confusion around her cabin.  At least the noise was a distraction from the thrumming, giving her something to focus on.  Jennifer got to her feet, armchair rolling back on its casters.  She was unsteady at first, her hip bumping into the console, knocking papers to the floor.  The pencil jumped, hit the floor, and rolled under the console.

She’d get it later.  Maybe after some sleep.  She grabbed another stim pack from her locker, popping the top and sucking back the sickly sweet fluid.  After a few moments, the grittiness in her eyes seemed to lift, and she could focus on things again.  The text on the stim pack announced another fine Pharmac product, and encouraged her to not exceed two units between sleep cycles.  The shaking in her hands didn’t stop.  She tossed the empty pack to her bunk, and shrugged on a shirt from the pile on the floor.  It was clean enough for an alarm.

No, no sleep today.  Jennifer wasn’t going to sleep until this was all squared away.  Heck, she could sleep when she was dead, either way.

Facing the door to her cabin, she pushed her shoulders back and crammed her cap on.  Time to act like an officer.  She opened the door, heading down the narrow passage, boots clanking against the deck grating.  She nodded at the sentry posted at the end of the corridor.

“Fenson.  Report.”

Fenson came to attention, her right arm snapping up to salute.  Career soldier, as near as made any difference.  She’d enlisted fresh out of Port Amber, right from the front lines of the conflict.  Jennifer noted the crisp lines of Fenson’s uniform.  She was probably sleeping better than Jennifer if she still had patience to iron.  “Ma’am.  Yes ma’am.  Fire alarm started seconds ago.  We think it’s from inside the morgue.”

Jennifer eyed Fenson from under her cap.  “You think, private?”

“Ma’am.”  She cleared her throat.  “Rupert is going down to take a look.”

“Alone?”

“Ma’am.  There’s…  There’s no one left.  Else, I mean.  There’s no one else.”

“Private.  Follow me.”  Without looking to see if Fenson was following, Jennifer broke into a jog towards the morgue.  A fire in the morgue would be highly unusual.  There wasn’t anything in there to burn.

She could hear boots behind her.  Fenson.  Good.

As they got closer to the morgue, Jennifer could smell the smoke.  It was oily, like too much fat on barbequed bacon.  She could also hear a sound, strangely rhythmic.  As a child her mother had wanted her to play an instrument.  Jennifer was having none of it, preferring to play outside with her brothers.  After much reflection in the music store, she’d chosen the clarinet because the sound of a poorly blown reed was sure to drive her mother crazy and end practice very quickly.  This sound had that same high-pitched edge to it, a shriek starting to build from some terrible pain, and then stopping again.

Jennifer rounded the corner leading to the morgue, and saw Rupert standing in the doorway to the morgue.  He wasn’t moving, his face registering shock.  The smoke was thick here, black sooty clouds coming from the door to the morgue.  She could tell from where she stood that tears were running down his face – from shock or the smoke, it was hard to tell.  Same song, different music.  She’d seen a man like that in the field once, watching as the enemy had started eating one of his squad mates, just before being topped himself.  Regardless of why, Rupert was stunned, immobile, and ineffective.  Jennifer grabbed an extinguisher from the wall and ran up beside him to look into the morgue.

The Texas carried all kinds of supplies.  It was a big starship, designed to spend years on a mission.  All the comforts of home, right here in space.  They even had recorded TV shows, all re-runs but something at least to lean against in the cold of space.  Feeding a hungry crew was vital, and the needs of the kitchen were paramount.  A well-fed crew was a crew marginally less inclined to mutiny.  So they had the usual, powdered eggs, flour, all kinds of proteins and frozen vegetables.  Stacks of them, down in the hold.  Heck, they made cakes on Christmas.  For that they needed the usual supplies.

And sugar.  Big barrels of sugar.

One of those barrels had been wrestled up here into the morgue, the top popped off.  Jennifer guessed some kind of incendiary had been used to start the fire – probably a welding torch.  And then – by the looks, only a quick glance so far – Specialist Wallace Simpson had thrown himself on top of the blaze.

He was making the noise.  There wasn’t much left of his face and probably not his throat either.  He just sat in the fire, not moving at all, the smoke pouring off him in big black clouds.  His orange jumpsuit was charred, a long taffy streamer of melting plastic stretching down from his thigh.

Jennifer pushed past Rupert, bringing the extinguisher up.  She squeezed the release, great gouts of white foam hitting Simpson’s torso.  The flames gutted down while she played the extinguisher over him and the barrel of sugar.  Stepping forward quickly she planted a boot in Simpson’s chest and pushed him backwards out of the path of the flames.

His body hit the floor, soot and flakes of something – better not think about it – puffing out from his back.  She continued to play the stream of foam over him until she was sure he was no longer on fire.

The sugar barrel was still on fire though.  She grabbed a surgical tray, tossing medical tools across the room, and pushed it over the top of the barrel.  Starved of oxygen, the fire would go out quickly.  Jennifer dropped the extinguisher on the tray, then turned to Rupert.

“Private!  Report.”

Rupert seemed to notice her for the first time.  “I, uh.”

“Soldier!”

“Ma’am!”  Rupert seemed to come out of his shock then, body coming back into attention.  “I arrived here just before you.  I, uh.  Specialist.”  He cleared his throat.  “Specialist Simpson was already, he was, the barrel.  Uh.”

Jennifer scuffed something off the boot she’d pushed Simpson back with.  “Go on.”

Rupert tried again.  “Specialist Simpson was in the barrel.  No.  On the barrel.  In?  I think he was on the barrel.  The barrel was on fire.”  He looked down at his feet.  “I didn’t see anyone else in here.  Ma’am.”

Nodding, Jennifer turned to Fenson.  “Get a medical crew down –”

“Christ!”  It was Rupert.  The shot rang out, harsh and loud in the metal cage of the morgue.  Jennifer spun back to him, taking in his unholstered sidearm.  “Fucking Christ!”  He fired again.

Simpson sagged back down, all the air going out of his ruined lungs in one final breath.

“Dude.”  Fenson’s voice was strained.  “You just shot Simpson.”

“He was dead!  He couldn’t have still been alive!  The fire!”

Jennifer looked at Rupert.  “Private.  Surrender your weapon.”

Rupert’s face turned desperate.  “I had no choice!  It was coming for us!”

Fenson spoke again.  “Listen to the boss, Rupert.  She knows what she’s doing.”

Rupert’s eyes went from Jennifer’s face, down to her outstretched arm, and to his sidearm.  His elbows unlocked, the tension leaving his shoulders, and he spun the grip towards her.  “Ma’am.”

“Very good, private.”  Jennifer put the weapon in her back pocket, turning back to Fenson.  “Belay that previous order.  Get a clean up crew down here.  Leave Simpson.  I’ll do the autopsy later.  Just,” and here she looked at the small doors arranged in a grid against one wall, “Put him in the fridge until I get back.”

“Ma’am.  Rupert?”  Fenson nodded towards him.  He seemed to be back in shock, shuffling slowly towards Simpson’s body.  Maybe the lack of sleep was getting to them all.  She’d known Simpson, not well, but well enough to nod at him in the tight corridors of the Texas.  A good man, had a family back on Titan.  She’d played chess with him last week.  He was a lousy chess player.

“The brig.”  Jennifer rubbed her temples.  “God damn it all.  This fucking noise.”

“Ma’am?  What –” Fenson was interrupted by Rupert.

“Christ!  Fucking Christ!”  He’d bent down over Simpson’s body.  “He’s put the fuses for the fucking extinguisher system into his eyes!”

“What?”  Jennifer looked at Rupert, who pointed at Simpson’s head.

“Here.  His eyes!  He’s put the fuses in his eyes.  His fucking eyes, man!”

Jennifer looked at the emergency console on the wall.  Sure enough, it hung open, loose cables dangling from it.  That explained why the fire suppressant system hadn’t come on with the alarm.  She was pretty sure losing at chess wouldn’t make a man do something like this.

“Ma’am.”  It was Fenson again.  “What noise?”

Jennifer turned back to Fenson.  “Private.  Can’t you hear it?  I can even feel it.  Through my feet.”

Rupert nodded from his position.  “All the time.  I hear it when I sleep.”

Fenson looked at both of them, backing towards the door.  Her weapon came up.  “You’re crazy.  Both of you.  It’s you!  You’ve been killing everyone!”

Jennifer kept facing Fenson, her hand sliding towards the sidearm in her back pocket.  “Private.  Stay frosty.  We can work this thing through.”

“People are dead!”  She shouted the last word at Jennifer.  The gun trembled in her grip.  A small trickle of sweat was making its way down from her hair line.

A sound from came from behind Jennifer.  The moment hung, as if time was taking careful steps not to trip up.  Jennifer drew the sidearm from behind her and up in one smooth motion, the weapon level and steady on Fenson’s face.  Fenson’s weapon was pointing at Jennifer, the barrel black and without compromise.  Both of them held that pose for as long as a heartbeat.  Then Fenson squeezed the trigger, the shock of the shot going past Jennifer’s shoulder.  She felt the nick of the bullet against her cheek, bright as a hornet’s sting.

Fenson’s head whipped back, her body pinwheeling into the door frame.  Jennifer’s eyes focussed on the barrel of the sidearm in her hand, smoke making a lazy rise towards the ceiling.  Damn.  She didn’t even remember pulling the trigger, hadn’t felt the pull and buck of the weapon.  Just like that, Fenson was gone.

Her ears were ringing.  She remembered when she’d been posted as a member of a riot squad.  A flash grenade had been let off too close to her, some rookie mistake.  The noise had been hot and white, feeling like mercury in her head.  That’s what this felt like, blood trickling from her ear after her eardrum burst.

Jennifer lowered the sidearm, turning to see Rupert lying on the morgue’s floor next to Simpson.  Fenson’s bullet had taken him in the throat.  He was gone too.  She looked at the weapon in her hand.  Only four days.

She was going to need more stims.

Uncategorized

Anna Caro – Writer, Editor (pure awesome).

I’ve known Anna for a few years now, have been staff with her at both Kiwiwriters and SpecFicNZ. We’ve edited an anthology together, and I have the pleasure of being in a writers group with her (online). So I can definitely testify to her awesomeness. Fate (a.k.a Dan over at SpecFicNZ) threw us together in the Matrix of Doom this year, and so I got to interview her, which is something new for us! Strangely, all this prior knowledge didn’t make it any easier for me to come up with questions. Thanks for taking the time to answer them, Anna!

Having read many of your stories, I know that you are not afraid to write about things that others might shy away from. Personally, I love that your characters are unique, and face many challenges beyond what your regular writer might pit against their creations. What are the topics that you most enjoy exploring in your fiction?

I love writing about characters who are outsiders in some way. I don’t mean the type who wander round lonely clifftops in the rain making maudlin pronouncements, but those who have a myriad of points of tension and exclusion and friction with the world in which they live, who are all the wrong shape, physically and metaphorically, for the space they’ve been allotted. Who are fighting against the society they live in, but have to adapt themselves in so many ways to survive in it, and for whom even the usual paths of rebellion may not be an option.

Recently much of my writing has been concerned with disability and bodies in some way. Blueprints, which was included in the anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land, is set in a time when everyone who can is leaving Earth for a more hospitable planet. The story is about those who can’t. Millie, to be published in the forthcoming Outlaw Bodies anthology, is about a woman whose parents and doctors made decisions about her body when she was a child, and the repercussions of those. My almost-finished novella-in-progress plays with the oft quoted idea of autistic people being or feeling like we’re from another planet, and is about an autistic woman who has chosen to live on (literally) another planet.

What other areas are you looking at delving into in your future writing?

I’m currently planning a novella set in a near-future world of environmental decline, when scarcity is just beginning to bite in places it never has before. I suspect that may be harder to write than post-apocalyptic fiction. It also touches on child refugee issues and power and abuse – but I think I’m most apprehensive about the fact it’s primarily a romance. That’s not my usual style!

More broadly, I’m hoping to write more poetry and I’m quite determined that next year will see the production of a novel.

You’ve published quite a few short stories now, as well as a co-editing two short story anthologies—in what ways has this combination approach benefitted (or hindered) your writing? If you had to choose only one to do for the rest of your life, which would be the ultimate winner?

Developing writing as a craft has given me a lot of insight into what makes a good story, and so has editing. More specifically, submitting stories has given me an overview of the processes editors use (for Regeneration, which is currently open to submissions, we’re using an online submissions manager, which is making things a lot easier, and which I learned about through submitting to publications which already use it) and editing has reinforced something I knew in theory but only half believed: that rejected stories are not (necessarily) bad stories. And both have helped me make a lot of connections, contacts and friends, who have been of great help in ways I didn’t necessarily predict.

On the negative side, it’s a time suck. I keep meaning to take an editing-free year and it keeps not happening. This year I’ve been just one member of an editorial board working on an issue of an already established publication so it hasn’t been so bad, but the anthologies have effectively taken out at least a couple of months of writing time each.

If I had to choose between writing and editing, writing would win, no contest. There’s no way to answer this without clichés, so I’ll just shamelessly indulge in them: editing is something I enjoy doing, writing is something I need to do. Editing enhances my life; writing is integral to it. I’m planning to keep doing both for the foreseeable future though.

When trying to decide on the theme for an anthology, what are the key elements you are looking for in that theme?

For both the anthologies of New Zealand speculative fiction (A Foreign Country and the forthcoming Regeneration) we wanted something that was specific enough to give a shape to the anthology – and generate some ideas for writers – but not so specific it inhibited our goal of showcasing a range of speculative fiction from around the country. The theme of ‘regeneration’ also marks the anthology as a sequel, is, I think, very relevant in NZ at the moment given the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes and we’re hoping may result in a few stories with more positive endings.

For Tales for Canterbury, something similar applied, but given the very limited time frame we were working with, only a few authors were able to write something specifically for the theme. So we wanted something that most writers could fit something into. Because the focus was even more broad (including multiple genres) we divided it into sections to make it more structured. We played with a few variations before settling on Survival, Hope and Future, which I hope acknowledged the reality but also reflected a path forward.

I also have some very tentative ideas for future anthologies which are more thematically specific, and those are based on both my own interests and where there’s a gap in what’s already available that I’d like to see filled.

Finally, if you could impart one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?

When I was at school one of my teachers had a poster of what I think was a Sufi proverb : “Trust in God, but tie your camel”. I may not be religious, but the idea it’s important to both follow high ideals, but pay attention to the practical side, has always appealed to me. You can follow your dreams and believe this is what you were meant to do, but don’t let that stop you proofreading and paying the power bill. Paying attention to the boring side, making sure other parts of your life are in order, being open to criticism and the interests of your readers do not somehow sully or devalue your writing – quite the opposite.

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Christopher Ruz on cover design

Here on the blog today, I have an interview with Australian speculative fiction author, Christopher Ruz. He’s got a wide range of stories available – both short and long – and many more in the works. Well worth checking out. I recently read his novel, Century of Sand, and really enjoyed it. An epic fantasy tale set in a diverse landscape, peopled with unique characters – some of whom I will never forget.

Not only did I love the story, but I adored the cover design and wanted to get inside his head and find out more about it. I hope you enjoy 🙂

I love the cover of Century of Sand. It’s really beautiful, and quite artistic in comparison to many titles out there. What made you decide to go in that direction?

I knew when I was first planning to self-publish Century of Sand that the cover was possibly the most important part of the equation. Fantasy art speaks to readers in very specific ways. It has its own particular language. If you look at the works of modern fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta, and more recently Brom, you see hyper-realistic colours, hard brush strokes, and eclectic palettes. I wanted to be a part of that artistic language. I also think that the cover of a book informs the reader as to both the content and mood of a piece. Regardless of what people say about not judging a book by its cover, the art on the front of the book does effect how we interpret a work. As such, I wanted to give my readers the very best design possible, and not cheat my audience by slapping together a quick and dirty design.

The cover is hugely important in an online environment as it’s the first thing that draws the eye – what were the key components you felt were necessary to catch a reader’s attention for this book? 

I’ve learned a lot through trial and error as an indie author, and the three most important parts of any cover are (I feel) clarity, genre, and mood. A cover doesn’t have to depict a particular moment in a story, but it must be absolutely clear what the book embodies. My genre is fantasy – specifically, an epic swords-and-sorcery trilogy. To represent this, I put my main characters up front, in fantasy garb, holding swords. It sounds obvious, but the number of fantasy covers I see that could easily be slapped on to the front of a colonial drama or historical fiction is staggering. Hence, my quest for clarity.

The mood is just as important, and is related to colour and composition. Century of Sand is the story of a journey, and to represent a journey we need to see the distance from here to there. Hence, my characters in the foreground, and Ini’s fortress in the background as an ominous hint as to what lies ahead. Finally, the colour is vital. The blues and greens in the foreground are calming, and are very un-sandlike, which adds an air of unreality. In the background, muted reds hint at blood and danger to come. The transition between the colours creates tension and mystery.

Those three elements together – clarity, genre and mood – are what I felt are the most important aspects in catching a reader’s attention.

How did you start the process? For example, did you look at artists first, or did you decide on the style you wanted then go looking for someone who could pull it off? 

I’ve been a long-time member of deviantart.com, so I’m familiar with a lot of artists that work in the approximate style I was after. I approached a few different artists once I knew what sort of cover I was after, asking for quotes, and one in particular was the perfect fit – talented, pleasant to work with, and within my price range. I sent him my sketches and specifics for colour and mood, and he worked almost independently from there.

I know you’ve done a fair few of your own covers for your other published works, what made you look for an artist for this particular novel?

It was purely because I didn’t think I could do the book justice on my own. Century of Sand has occupied four years of my life, and I didn’t feel it proper to slap one of my amateur photochops on the cover and hope it sufficed. I want to represent myself as a professional author, and for that I need a professional quality cover, for which I was happy to pay professional rates. And it paid off – I receive as many compliments on the cover art for Century of Sand as I do for the book itself. I hope it’s directed a lot of business towards Chris Newman, because he deserves it.

Finally, what is the best advice you can give to someone seeking a cover artist?

Take your time. There are many talented artists out there, and many who are happy to work at affordable rates, but not so many who are easy to work with. Make sure you have a good idea of what you want before you begin the process – being vague with your artist will only lead to frustration. Then speak to as many appropriate artists as possible, get quotes, balance out their style versus the cost, and examine very closely which of those artists are courteous and prompt with emails, and which can’t be bothered. Their personalities are as important as their skill with a brush. Finally, be willing to pay! If you cheat your artists, they’ll cheat you back, and talent should be rewarded. Save your pennies and make sure your cover is something you can be proud of, instead of something hasty and cheap. Remember, this is your business. Your cover is your advertising, your public face. Make it beautiful.

Thanks for your time, Chris! And for answering all my questions.

If you want to check the book out, you can find it on Amazon. And if you want to find out more about Chris, you can find his blog here.

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New kids on the block

This year has been pretty exciting for us NZ writers – not one, but two, new publishers of speculative fiction have appeared! Magic 😉

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with the men behind both of these ventures. Some of you might recall the interview I did with Stephen Minchin, editor of Steam Press, earlier in the year. I was thrilled to find him passionate and dedicated to his venture. Since chatting with him last, he has signed three books! The first will be released during New Zealand Book month (March, 2012). It sounds like a really great read and I know I’ll be picking it up.

The other two are secret projects – one of them by the incredibly talented couple Matt and Debbie Cowens. They are both fantastic writers, so I am looking forward to that! The final one listed is by Michael Morrissey. He’s new on my radar, but he’s in good company so I am sure it’ll be worth checking out too 😉

Comets and Criminals is a new zine dedicated to publishing Science Fiction, Adventure, Historical and Western genre pieces. I actually submitted a short story once I saw they were open, and was thrilled to have it accepted (it’ll be on the site in October, in the first issue). I can say that the editor, Samuel Mae, is a fantastic bloke. He’s great to work with – he communicates really well, and likes to work with the authors to get their stories into the best shape possible. I’d definitely recommend this market, and am looking forward to reading issue one!

So if you have something to submit, long or short, why not consider these markets? They might be the new kids on the block but their passion, drive and commitment are obvious. I think they both have bright futures ahead.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a review of Mary Victoria’s ‘Tymon’s Flight’.

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Steam Press – an interview with the Editor

Something exciting happened in late May this year. Steam Press, a brand new publisher of Speculative Fiction, was launched by editor, Stephen Minchin. Curious to find out more, I sent him an email to see if he’d be interested in answering a few questions to give us some insight into what goes on behind the scenes. To my delight, I found that Stephen is a man very passionate about both speculative fiction, and New Zealand writing. Read on to find out more about Steam Press…

It’s very exciting to see a speculative fiction publisher in New Zealand, what made you decide to delve into the world of publishing and start your own press?

I’ve written speculative fiction for ten or twelve years, but it didn’t take me long to realise that very few publishers in New Zealand would even look at a horror or science fiction novel so I put bought a suit and got a job at a consultancy firm. Last year I suddenly realised that I didn’t like my job and I knew that I had to move into a career that I could be passionate about. I managed to convince my wife that it’d be fun to live on instant noodles for a year, quit my job, and managed to get a place in Whitireia’s publishing programme. I’m halfway through the diploma now and am doing part time work at Steele Roberts in Wellington, to help keep out of mischief.

Steam Press came about through my study – specifically, it was inspired by the publishers who spoke with us in the first few months of the course who all said that there was no market in New Zealand for speculative fiction. This didn’t make any sense to me as the major publishers in Auckland are all happy enough to import spec fic, with The Passage, Harry Potter, the Discworld novels, or Twilight all selling tens of thousands of copies when most New Zealand literature, which these same publishers are all keen to print, might only sell a thousand copies. I’m aiming to prove those publishers wrong.

While print is a medium people love, e-books are certainly growing in popularity. Is there a specific format (print or e-book) that you plan to focusing on, or will you be putting out a combination of both?

I will be focussing on print for the launch of Steam Press’s books, with e-books following a few months later. I believe that print books have a future so long as they are produced well – gorgeous covers, beautiful internal design, and quality production. That all adds to the reading of a book. E-books have their place, and as far as selling internationally goes they really are the best option for a small press, but an e-book will never give the reader the same experience.

We know you are looking for speculative fiction, but is there anything in particular you would love to find in your submissions inbox? What really excites you, or what do you think there is not enough of on the shelves at the moment?

STEAMPUNK! Good Lord, what I would give for a brilliant steampunk novel which was set in colonial Wellington. I’d have kittens.

I am really keen to see science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories which are unashamedly set in New Zealand. British authors don’t have any concerns setting their novels in the UK, and most of the American authors I read set their books in the US. A lot of Kiwi authors, however, seem to avoid a New Zealand setting, opting for either a generic northern hemisphere backdrop or a US / UK setting. I am interested in publishing New Zealand speculative fiction, and by this I mean more than the fact that the stories were written by a Kiwi – I’d love to read about people fighting zombie hordes down Lambton Quay, aliens blowing up the Sky Tower, and clockwork-powered engines running amok through the Otago goldfields.

What kind of editorial process can authors who publish with Steam Press expect to go through?

I am reading all submissions and making the first cut. If I find a manuscript that I really like I will trust my gut and respond to the author straight away; if I’m feeling more cautious I’ll run the manuscript past a friend who has agreed to help me with this. For anything that we decide to take further I’ll let the author know if I’d like to see any significant changes (though of course I’m always happy to discuss these suggestions), and once the story is pretty much sorted it’ll be time to get them contracted. Then it’ll just be a matter of hammering out any minor problems with the story, fixing typos etc, and I’ll spend a fair bit of time during this stage trying to pick holes in the manuscript, double checking all the timelines and descriptions to make sure everything lines up, and generally just being annoying.

Once that’s done the manuscript should be pretty tidy so I’ll typeset the book, run the story past a few more people to make sure we haven’t missed anything, and then I’ll run off a first set of proofs. This will lead to a fun and exciting series of second, third, and potentially fourth proofs, a which point everyone should be sick to death of the damn thing. After a glass of two of wine we’ll send the files to the printer for proofing on their machine, and we’ll be checking the cover artwork and design then as well. If that all goes according to plan (we live in hope) that’ll be the book sorted, and the we’ll just have to deal with the clamourings of the press, Peter Jackson, and crazed fans…

Sell yourself! What are three things about you, as an editor, that sets you apart from other editors.

I think the main thing that sets me apart from most editors in New Zealand is that I am passionate about speculative fiction. It’s what I read, and it’s what I want to get into bookstores. If it floats my boat then I’ll be keen to publish it, unlike the major publishers who also have to weigh up the commercial interests as dictated by their multinational overlords.

As well as this, I am a writer as well as an editor so I’ve been on the other end of the submissions process. I understand what it’s like to submit a novel but have no idea if it got through, and wait three or four months hoping you’ll eventually hear back. I acknowledge all submissions when they arrive in my inbox, and I am aiming to respond to all subs within a month. So far, I’ve managed to keep response times down to two to three weeks. And if a writer has any questions, wants to meet me for a coffee, or just wants to buy me drinks, I’m pretty approachable.

I’m hoping to develop a niche somewhere in the middle ground between the small presses and the major publishers, combining the focus of the former with the training of the latter. The Whitireia Diploma in Publishing has taught me a huge amount about editing, design, and book marketing, so I’m confident that I’ll be able to produce a professional text, plus I know cover designers who can make Steam Press books look as good as anything else that’s on the market, and I’m gaining the industry knowledge and connections to get those books into shops.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you to everyone who has supported me so far by sending me their manuscripts and offering to be involved. I’m really excited to be reading manuscripts and starting to talk with authors about getting their stories published. Please spread the word that I’m looking for manuscripts, follow me on Twitter if that’s your thing, feel free to contact me, and keep an eye out for our first book – I’m hoping to have something out in early 2012. Cheers!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us, Stephen! It’s highly encouraging to learn more both about you, and the Press. We wish you all the best with this endeavour—and many happy years turning out quality New Zealand speculative fiction.

You can find submission guidelines and contact details for Steam Press here and find them on twitter here.