writing

E for Exploration

One of the things I love most about being a writer is the endless possibilities it presents – not only to explore our inner selves but also the opportunity it gives us to explore the unknown, the fantastical, the magical, the untouchable.

All writers have heard the old saying ‘write what you know’, and while I think this is good advice to newer writers, I also think it can be taken too literally. I mean, we all know what it is to yearn for something – a person, a job, a toy. Most of  us have experienced love, shame, anger, we’re all human (at least I assume you are if you’re reading this – hello to any super intelligent animals and alien beings!). We can extend that range of human emotions to imagine ourselves in almost any position; and this is what it means to me to write what I know.

Because, quite frankly, I’m far more interested in writing about places and happenings that I don’t know, than ones that I do. Putting all those human emotions to the test in situations I’ll never encounter really appeals.

Part of the beauty of writing speculative fiction is that you can ask any question, broach any topic and explore any world you could possibly imagine – and the flipside is that there are writers who can imagine worlds you can’t, and you then get to explore those in your reading. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Exploration and escapism go hand in hand for me, both as a writer and a reader. Always has, always will.

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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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Musings

It’s the end of New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, and I missed yesterdays post – I’d been going to tell you about some stuff and then today I was going to post the final version of the short story I started two years ago during the very first Blogging Week.

Yeah, not gonna happen – sorry about that. My touch pad and buttons on the laptop started failing a couple of days ago, and doing anything on the computer has been incredibly frustrating. So I avoided it. As much as possible. Which means that the house is looking very tidy (hooray for those spring cleaning vibes!), but I haven’t managed a lot of anything writing related for the last wee while and the short story is very much not in a ‘final’ state.

That’s life sometimes, isn’t it.

So while I have not been writing, I have been thinking, mostly about how one goes about bringing a Kiwi voice to their writing. I’m thinking about this because my current work in progress, Saving Tomorrow, is set in a future Wellington. I’m thinking about it because I’m still breaking down the walls I have when it comes to using New Zealand as a setting.

It’s what I know, it’s what I love, but there is very much a barrier there. I think, because most of the fiction I grew up on was from elsewhere. The TV shows, the movies, the cartoons. So much of everything we had access to growing up was from other shores, and it makes me ponder – which parts of my writers voice are New Zealand?

In some respects, I think this is a redundant question. Part of being a NZer is that we are a cross between a colony and a native race. We’ve got this blend of what was already here and what was introduced – that’s still very true for today, as it was for years gone by. So naturally, we draw from a whole range of things and our language, our way of communicating with the world is influenced by everything we are exposed to.

The thing I need to remind myself is that NZ is rich with possibilities and that if I have no particular setting in mind, then it’s a positive and not a negative to make the most of my country of origin. I frequently um and ah about where to set something, and I just need to plug ‘New Zealand’ in as my default. My writing will be stronger for it – and hell, there are less of us, so in some ways its more original than your typical medieval fantasy, or other overdone settings 😉

I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks, and checked out some of the other posts written for it.

Tomorrow I’ll be raving about how getting a dishwasher has revolutionized my life…

And, I’ll leave you with another pic from the beach. Isn’t the blue of the sky amazing?

seagulls in flight, after eating our sandwich crusts

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Mary Victoria, an interview

As I mentioned yesterday, I first got to know Mary through Tales for Canterbury. A little known fact is that she actually wrote TWO stories! After submitting the first, she started working on a second – ultimately that one was a better fit for the anthology, and was the one that appeared (Daughter of the Khan).

From an editor’s point of view, I was impressed with Mary. She worked hard at getting her stories in, and then went on to tweak it until it was just right. She’s the kind of person who works until she is sure it’s the best she can possibly get it, and I really admire that quality in writers.

From a personal point of view, I discovered not only a dedicated author, but also a lovely person. She always responded to emails quickly, she was super friendly and just so great to work with.

For me, the only thing more exciting than finding a new author whose work you love, is finding an author who you also admire as a person. I definitely found that in Mary. She kindly answered a few questions for me this week, so I’ll shut up now and get on with that 😉

The world in Tymon’s Flight is quite amazing. So completely different from anything I’ve ever read before. Where did you get the idea for an entire world based on a gigantic tree?

As the story goes, my husband woke up one morning saying he’d dreamed of floating cities in the sky. I said, ‘Well, that’s an interesting basis for a fantasy world.’ But the more I thought about those floating cities, the more I saw roots and branches growing between them, connecting them. And eventually I realised the whole thing was set in one big tree – so big that it resembled a continent or mountain range, rather than a single plant.

I’m going to be reading the second novel in the series shortly. I’m curious, did you know it would result in a series when you first had the idea? Or is that something that occurred to you while writing Tymon’s Flight?

The books were always going to be a series, a trilogy. Really this is a single story spread over three books. Each volume has an arc and a natural stopping point, but you have to read all three to get the full picture. What starts off as a fairly straightforward adventure/coming of age story turns into something quite different by the end! So yes – I always had that overall theory. I just didn’t know how exactly I was going to get there, which is part of the joy of writing in the first place – discovering the story the characters wish to tell.

The third book, Oracle’s Fire, is coming out in the near future. What’s next for you? Will we see more novels set in this world, or are you working on something else?

I’m already working on a new project. Yes, it’s set in a different universe entirely. And nothing will induce me to tell you more at this point! 🙂

As this week is all about New Zealand, and Spec-Fic – what would you say are of the positives and negatives of being a writer in New Zealand?

Positives include a rich local culture and landscape on which to draw for inspiration, and a pretty darned fabulous community of fellow writers. Seriously: I have had nothing but support and real practical help from other NZ authors (maybe we’re nice to each other because everyone knows where the other guy lives, heh heh.)

Negatives are simply to do with being far away from other English-speaking countries: it’s hard to launch a book tour outside NZ. 😉

What is one piece of advice for newer writers in NZ that you would offer up?

Don’t give up. People will tell you nonsense like: ‘the book is dead’, ‘you can’t make a living as an author unless you write urban fantasy/self help books/celebrity memoirs’, and so on. Stick to your guns. Write what you love. Write what you love even if you’re eating Spam and crackers and working two day jobs. Find an agent if you can. Publish, then write some more. Don’t stop. It’s worth it.

Fantastic advice! Thank you so much for sharing with us, Mary. I’ll look forward to reading the rest of this trilogy, and whatever else you put out in the future 🙂

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Traveling Through Time

Yesterday I took state highway 45 (surf highway!) out of town, around the coast, to where I grew up. The car became a time machine and I rocketed past the landmarks of my history.

It’s always like this, every time I traverse that path I’m reminded of the details of my childhood, my teenage years, the foundations of who I am.

This occasion was sadder than normal – I was attending the funeral of one of my best friends father. I’ve known her, known him, since high school. He’s not old enough to have passed, but that’s life sometimes.

I was reminded of all the things I loved about growing up a ‘coastie’. The arctic blast of wind, straight off the mountain after a fresh dump of snow. The windswept trees, pushed into abnormal shapes, some stripped bare, pointing their naked branches at the striking blue sky in accusation. The beautiful shape of the ranges, the roll of the hills, the clusters of rock strewn across the paddocks as though giants had been playing marbles.

Mt Taranaki from Surf Highway

I drove past the two blue silos before Oakura. In my teens I told myself the story about the farmer and his wife, who lured travelers off the highway. They’d murder them and keep them stacked in those silos, no-one the wiser.

And then there was the barn whose round roof poked over the top of a hill. In my childhood I was convinced it was the easter bunnies hot air balloon. Who knows why it was there every day. Or why they flied in hot air balloons. It was one of my truths, and it took many years to accept that actually, it was just the roof of a barn…

Back Beach

Everything around here inspires me, and I love to time travel and remember the things that shaped me into the creative person I am today. This is a beautiful country, and I draw so much from it. The raw beauty I find in my natural environment is something that I try to bring to my writing. That clarity, that sense of reality, even though the worlds and characters I create are fictional.

Please head over to the SpecFicNZ page. There are other posts to have a look at, and if you leave a comment you go in the draw to win a book!

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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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New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week begins!

Tēnā koutou. Haere mai! Welcome, everyone.

A year ago, I had no idea just how rich the realm of speculative fiction was within New Zealand. I’d been in contact with a few people, had a few friends who were doing things, but I was mostly unaware of the gold that was still untapped. This all changed at the end of February when Anna and I set about the task of compiling the benefit anthology, Tales for Canterbury.

Through this project I had the opportunity to make contact with a phenomenal range of New Zealand authors*. They all have such different takes on the world, such varying styles of writing, but one thing remained the same—they were all generous, helpful, friendly and wonderful to work with.

I never imagined that despite other commitments and deadlines looming, despite being affected personally by the quake, so many writers would be so willing to pitch in. I don’t know why I was surprised though, because for the most part, this is my experience of being a New Zealander. That ‘get in there and help out’ attitude.

So, not only is New Zealand filled with amazing writers (some of whom I’ll share more about later this week), but those writers are also amazing people. I feel lucky, and inspired, to be part of that bunch, and hope that one day when I’m better established as a writer I’ll be able to do my country proud like these folks. Creativity and passion are not lacking here. The Land of the Long White Cloud is filled with it.

I hope you’ll tune in this week, and check out the other posts that will be going up around the web. A list will be compiled at this page as we get the links through.

Enjoy!

*I had contact with a fair few fabulous overseas authors as well, but because this is NZ spec-fic blogging week, I’ll be focusing on the Kiwis 😉

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NZ Spec Fic Blogging Week 2011 – coming soon!

It’s almost that time of the year again! I love this blogging week, and I’m looking forward to bringing you a variety of posts for this years event. To learn more about it, why not head over to the SpecFicNZ website? This is the third year, and I’m sure it will be even bigger than last year.

Kiwiwriters.org is running a challenge alongside, in case you needed some extra incentive for posting during the week.

It’s a great opportunity to show some love for our beautiful country, and the talented and creative individuals who live here. I can say that participating for the last two years has really given me a greater appreciation for New Zealand Speculative Fiction, and spurred me into writing more fiction based here – attmpting to claim my local voice, if you will.

I hope you’ll tune in between the 19th and 25th of September. 🙂

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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.