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SpecFicNZ Best Blogger 2012

I got a lovely email last night from the folks over at SpecFicNZ to officially notify me that I’d been awarded the ‘best blog post’ title for 2012.

I believe there is a lovely prize being sent out, along with this spiffy badge. I’m pretty chuffed about it 🙂 The winning entry was ‘The Perks of Writing in NZ’.

 

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The Perks of Writing in NZ

I used to think that NZ was the worst place in the world to be a writer. I remember looking around for places to submit when I thought I’d finished my first novel (Ha! It was so not good enough!) and finding that I could count the number of agents on one hand, and none of them represented fantasy. There were very few publishers to submit to directly and at that point in time it felt pretty much like all the ‘good’ kiwi authors were living in Australia. Or further afield than that.

By this point in my writing career I’d been a member at Kiwiwriters for several years, but I was trying really hard to move from just writing, to getting something published, and when Ripley asked if anyone was interested in creating an organization for NZ speculative fiction writers, my hand was one of the first raised and I had the pleasure of jumping into the Core of SpecFicNZ.

In the years since then, I’ve come to realize that there are a fair few perks to being a writer in a small country. For instance, when you get involved in the writing community you can get to know a huge range of really talented writers. It’s pretty inspiring to learn of all the exciting things that they are up to (a good way to keep track of this is via the SpecFicNZ site which often posts news of what it’s members are doing).

Because we are small, it means that when competitions are open (of which SpecFicNZ runs many throughout the year, as well as other venues), there is a better chance of getting feedback from judges, or in fact of placing/getting published.

One of the highlights of my small writing career was being published alongside one of my all time favourite authors, Juliet Marillier, in the Foreign Country anthology put out by Random Static. It was something I never even imagined could happen (and then it happened again in Tales for Canterbury!). In fact, there are so many wonderful, published authors in New Zealand, and through getting involved in the community, I’ve actually got to know some of them. And I don’t feel like that could have happened in a bigger country.

I even think that our success in putting together Tales for Canterbury was in part because we are small. There was very much a sense of people wanting to pitch in and take part because everyone knows someone in Christchurch. Many people have lived there, or have had personal experiences of the city and region. I love this reach out and help mindset that kiwi’s have, and I appreciate it now more than ever.

This is a great country, one rich with creatives who are friendly and open to ideas. Sometimes it can feel as though we’re writing in isolation, with New Zealand being so small, and set apart from the rest of the world geographically. But we’re not. Not really. All you need to do is look around to see that we might be small but we’re capable of great things. We might be small, but we have a thriving creative community of which you can be a part if you want.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts from this years SpecFicNZ Blogging Week, as always there have been some good ones. I love this time of year as it gives me a chance to reflect on what it means to me to be a New Zealander, and a writer of speculative fiction and explore the ways in which those things work together. And amazingly, I managed a post every day for the last week! Hopefully this means you’ll hear from me more regularly again from now on 😉

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Maori Mythology

Following on from yesterdays post, I wanted to share with you some of my favourite myths from Maori culture. I’ve been doing some reading, and trying to find a way to mash everything into one post, but I just can’t seem to do it.

So, instead I am going to post some of the images I have come across, and let them speak for themselves. I’ll preface that by saying that one of the things that has always really appealed to me about the myths and legends of the Maori is how deeply connected they are with the world around us. As a child who was very prone to floating away with the fairies, the earthly basis of these stories helped to keep me grounded and gave me a sense of wonder about the world around me.

Maori Mythology

I remember driving to Auckland and passing through gorges and hilly terrain, and my mother telling me that these sheer drops and blunt cliff faces were shaped by the sons of Papatuanuku and Ranginui when they tried to carve their way free from the small space between their parents.

Maori Mythology, New Zealand

And I remember staring at the Kaitake ranges near our house, looking for the shape of the woman who had laid down to rest and never got up (I was trying to find a myth about this and couldn’t, so perhaps its just a story my mother made up 😉 )

And perhaps it was this grounding of the otherworld firmly in the real world that helped feed my fantasies and drew me inevitably, endlessly towards speculative fiction.

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The Next Big Thing

Well, the lovely Leigh tagged me in this, so I thought I better post it up! I was going to write about Sun-Touched, which is the novel I’m going to be preparing for submission in the near future, but then changed my mind and thought I would share a little about ‘Burn‘ with you. It’s ready for it’s final pass before it’s out the door – SUPER excited to submit something. This ties in nicely with SpecFicNZ blogging week in that I get to tell you a little more about what I’ve been working on recently 🙂 I do love this story.

What is the working title of your book?

The novella has been dubbed ‘Burn’ and I’m so bad at titles that I probably won’t change it 😉

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I initially got the idea a few years ago for a short story challenge that my writers group were doing. I never got around to finishing the piece, but I did write a few hundred words of the intro. That scene still takes place in the story, with some of the original words in place even (though it’s not longer the intro!). It wasn’t until this year that I actually re-envisioned the idea and wrote it.

What genre does your book fall under?

This is a fantasy story.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is one of the questions I hate the most when it comes to these kinds of things! I’ve never successfully cast actors in the roles of my novels, and I think that’s because in my writing I like to leave character appearance broad enough that readers can create their own images of what the character looks like. One that they can connect with. That said, for this story I did actually look for some inspiring photos, and I’ll share those with you here. The first is the woman that brings Carmel (my main character) to mind for me (though of course, in like, fantasy clothing lol).

And this next one is an image Leigh posted on my facebook timeline. She found it and immediately thought of my novella. This IS Serafina (okay, it’s actually Pele, I had totally forgotten about that fire goddess!), and every time I look at it, I shake my head in wonder.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Arg one-sentence synopsis!!! Bane of my existence… Alright, I will try…

When Carmel’s son dies, his last wish is to be burned in the fires of the Goddess Serafina. Can Carmel escape the city and make it to the mountain? And if she does, will the Nivaen goddess accept her half-caste son, or will her journey have been in vain?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I wrote this for a particular anthology, so fingers crossed that works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll certainly look at finding another publisher for it, and if that doesn’t work out, I could see myself self-publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a month! A couple of my writing buddies set aside a month to knock out the first draft, and we cheered each other along.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Again, this is one of those questions I struggle with. I really don’t know…

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Well, it was a combination effort between Anna and Meryl. Anna posted the anthology guidelines to our group, and Merrilee was all ‘SHINY! I can do that, you should totally do it too.’ At which point I realized I did have something that I could develop for it, and then we wrangled Anna into playing as well. (Yes, PLAY!). It’s been great to all work towards something longer than short stories, for the same market, and I’d be thrilled to see any of them appear in it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The main characters are a woman in her late middle ages, her dead son, and her baby grandson. A few others crop up along the way, but those were my staples. It was an interesting experience writing with this limited cast. Basically, it’s a story about a woman returning to her roots on the premise of burning her son according to her native culture, but alongside that it’s about her rediscovering who she is, and what her purpose is, after spending more than half of her life in captivity.

Thanks for reading! Cross your fingers for me 🙂

Oh, right. I’m meant to tag some other writers. I almost forgot! The following are some of my core writing crew (the ones that haven’t already been tagged yet, anyway), and I know that they are either in the process of getting something ready for publication, or just about finished with their first drafts (hint hint, Tama. You done yet?? 😉 ).

Take it away, Anna, Meryl, and Tama

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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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A Night to Remember – Part Two

As promised, here is part two of Simon Petrie’s story ‘A Night To Remember’. Part One of this story can be found here.

You will meet certain death, the voice message had declared. In, as these things went, a decidedly ominous fashion.
Was it too much of an exercise in blind optimism, Gordon Mamon wondered, to hope it was simply a wrong number?
He made his way through the plastiglass dome of the Skyward ascent concourse. (Only Skyward would think to fashion its shopfront, in essence, as a gigantic greenhouse. Or more to the point, only Skyward would do such a thing on an equatorial ‘island’ with 105% humidity, and then skimp on the air-conditioning … A good proportion of the milling prospective passengers within the concourse looked lost, which might in some cases have been the truth, but it was more likely that they were suffering from the initial stages of heat exhaustion.) Gordon fanned himself with his handheld, and swore as he noted that the escalator was out again. The stairs held no appeal in this heat.
Colum O’Cable’s hexagonal second-floor office had windows on four sides, which somehow contrived to look out on the beaches, the parks, and the high-end shopping precincts with which Skyward Island was studded, and not on the elevator shafts which were its raison d’etre. It was a nice office, big, solidly constructed—and remarkably well air-conditioned—yet Gordon never felt comfortable in it. A lot of that unease could be down to Colum, of course.
“So what’s the deal?” Gordon asked.
“Like I said, simple freight run. One of the tower units.” (Most of the elevator cars were six-storey, and capable of carrying a dozen guests and several staff on the three-day ascent to the Skytop Plaza; but there were a few twenty-storey units, popular for academic conferences, executive retreats, short-run reality-3V shows, and media conventions, and also used for bulky freight deliveries.)
“Carrying?”
“Ah, you’ll like this. Waxworks.”
“Waxworks?”
“Yeah. The Iyzowt Museum’s going off-planet. Claudia herself, too.”
“Off-planet? Where? Why?”
“Moon, I think. Though we’re only tasked with the job of getting all to Skytop, of course.”
“Why the tower block?”
“It’s a big collection. Over three hundred pieces, I think.”
“Still, three-hundred-odd waxworks … you’d be able to fit all that on a six-floor module, I’d have thought.”
“Old lady Iyzowt wanted the space of a tall unit. Said it was important the waxworks not feel cramped, or forced into anachronistic tableaux.”
“Meaning?”
“Damned if I know. Nix on the idea of putting Ghengis in with Emily Pankhurst, or something like that.”
“She sounds a bit eccentric.”
“Did wonders for the cause of women’s suffrage, by all accounts.”
Iyzowt.”
“Oh, Claudia Iyzowt’s more than just eccentric. She’s like a winter’s day on Orkney.”
“Meaning what?” Gordon asked.
“Short, grey, and miserable,” replied Col. “You’ll have a great time.”
“Me and who else?”
“Nobody else on board. Apart from Claudia, and the waxworks, of course.”
“But—but surely, there has to be more than one staff member on board. Regulations. I mean, what if something goes wrong?”
“What can go wrong?” asked Col. “The waxworks aren’t going to cause you any problems. And Iyzowt keeps to herself. You’ll probably hardly see her, the entire ascent. It’ll almost be like taking a vacation, and getting paid for it.”
I get paid for going on vacation as it is, Gordon thought bitterly. It’s called leave. It’s what I’m currently on, supposedly, right this minute. Though he knew from bitter experience—one-hundred-and-eighty-nine-jilted-keynote-speakers-bitter—just how futile, how counterproductive, such an assertion could be, in disputes with Col. Aloud, he asked, “Don’t suppose I have a choice, do I?”
“According to the nanoprint on your employment contract?” Col replied. “In words of one syllable: not really, no.”
Gordon opened his mouth, thought better of it, closed it. Said instead. “Right. I’ll do it. Under protest, mind.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Col, smiling, and Gordon suddenly remembered why he’d chosen that ‘baaa-dum’ alert tone for his handheld.
“I need to make a call first, though,” said Gordon. “It shouldn’t take any more than five minutes.”
Col waved him goodbye. Audience dismissed.

*
Outside Col’s office, the heat had if anything increased as the sun’s rays slid slowly down. The twinned elevator shafts, rising seemingly to infinity behind him across the concourse, left a pair of blinding-edged, metres-wide dark stripes that stretched unending across the tiled floor and beyond. Walking through the shadows, Gordon pulled his handheld out of his pocket and thumbed an icon.
It was strange, he thought. You could spend years working with a person, be in their company so frequently you got to feel almost like they were part of the furniture, and one day somehow see them in an entirely different light …
“Gordon?” Belle Hopp’s voice sounded anxious and slightly impatient, though that might just have been projection on Gordon’s part.
“Sorry, Belle. Change of plan. Col called.” And Gordon was sorry. He’d been looking forward to this for weeks, for all that it was probably a mistake: office relationships, and all that. (Not that all relationships didn’t have their ups and downs, but …) Then a potential silver lining occurred to him. “I don’t suppose he called you too?”
“No. No, he didn’t,” said Belle. “I paid Sue, a couple of months back, to fudge my contact details on file. Best day’s salary I ever spent.”
“Sounds like I need to try that, too. Belle, I really am sorry.”
“Not your fault, Gord …” But there was no denying that Belle sounded disappointed, perhaps a little put out. “And … take care, huh?”
“Will do, Belle. Another time?”
“We’ll see. I hope so.”
An alert sounded. “Whoops, better go. I’ve got another call.”
But the caller had already gone by the time Gordon switched icons, leaving only a voice message: “Detective? You will meet certain death.”
Detective.
So, thought Gordon, suddenly uneasy on as many levels as a Skyward freight tower. Probably not a wrong number, then. Pity.

Part three of ‘A Night to Remember’ is scheduled to appear on Wednesday, on Dan Rabarts’ site. A cumulative listing of the sites hosting the story is maintained here.

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SpecFicNZ Blogging Week Begins!

It totally crept up on me this year! Since I stepped down from the Secretary role, I’ve not been quite so in the ‘behind the scenes’ loop as previous years, which meant that this wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. However I saw someone post about it just a few days ago and it set my mind to thinking – what could I post about this year?

I have a few thoughts, but for the most part I’ll just be winging it. I’ll have an interview with my friend Anna later in the week, and tomorrow I’ll get to post the second part to Simon Petrie’s story ‘A Night to Remember’. He is writing it THIS week! How cool is that? You can read part one here.

Any thoughts? Any particular topic spanning New Zealand and Speculative Fiction that you’d like to see me blog about? If you have any suggestions (or questions!), throw them at me and I will see what I can come up with. Personally, I am looking forward to exploring some thoughts I’ve been having about my culture and upbringing and how those things have helped shape me as a story teller.

I’ll sign off for now, though I encourage you to check out the SpecFicNZ website at some point as I am sure there will be some links going live in the near future to other posts from Day 1 of blogging week. You can read more about it’s history, and past posts, here.