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Great Kiwi Reads

I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff from New Zealand writers this last week, so wanted to give a shout out to some of the great fiction coming out of Aotearoa.

The first book I read was Night’s Favour, the debut novel by Richard Parry. It has werewolves, and action, and cop stuff, and witty banter between friends, with a slice of romance on the side. I really enjoyed it, and it was AWESOME to read a werewolf book where they aren’t sexy and lusty and saturated with romance and bleh (not that there is anything wrong with that,  I’m just sick of werewolves not being wolfish and primal and raw). I think I must now go in search of more werewolf books that are werewolf books and not YA or paranormal romance, because it was a really nice change.

Night’s Favour is a very easy read, and Parry has a great style that should appeal to a broad range of people. Well worth checking out.

Next on the list was At the Bay of Chtulhu by the awesome Matt and Debbie Cowens, of Mansfield with Monsters fame. I have to admit that I still haven’t read any of Katherine Mansfield’s original works (only the Cowen’s versions), and I’m not overly familiar with Lovecraft’s stuff either (however I am going to have to change that stat). I enjoyed the hell out of this novella, more than I thought I would! It was dark and creepy and intriguing and I could have done with a lot more. MORE I SAY! A delicious story.

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve started in on the juicy gem that I received in the mail end in the weekend from Steam Press – an advanced copy of The Wind City by another debut author, Summer Wigmore.

I saw the cover a few weeks back and thought it was gorgeous – it’s even better in print, actually the whole design of the book is lovely and that’s something I really appreciate about Steam Press. They obviously take a lot of time and care into making their books different from the rest, and they have a really special quality to them.

(Is it totally weird and nerdy of me to say that I adore the font used for the page numbering? It’s like the numbers are both floating on air AND drifting in the sea. Totally cool. And there are these beautiful partial images above the chapter numbers… it’s lovely, really. Yeah okay, I’m a weirdo…).

Anyway, so far I am only a few chapters into the book, but I am loving it. The characters are unique and jump right off the page, and it’s so awesome to see a book set in Wellington (one of my favourite cities in NZ), which taps into local mythology. If it continues the same way it has started out, this could well end up being my favourite Steam Press book to date.

I think you should definitely check it when it hits the shelves in November. I can’t wait to get deeper into it.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading this week! What about you?

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A long week

So much has happened in the last week and a half, big changes and small, happy things and sad things. All up it’s felt very long and exhausting. I kept thinking of things to blog about, but in general just didn’t have the energy for it, so thought I would catch you all up in a series of snippets. I’m going to start with some good things, then some not so good things, then more good things, because lets face it, no one likes to end on a bad note 😉

The Good!
My beautiful Ivy turned seven. I can’t believe she is already so big! We had some birthday stuff over the weekend, with my wonderful mother taking over the birthday dinner organization on Saturday night because I was still a bit of a mess. Mum rocked it, and we had a great time with my mother in law, and brothers wee family coming to Mum’s for dinner as well.

Then on Tuesday one of my very good friends saved my ass by baking a lovely cake for Ivy’s actual birthday, and by picking her up so that I didn’t have to do the school thing (actually, she grabbed her on Wed as well. Claire rocks!).

The Bad:
Mishka’s death on Friday afternoon really messed me up. On top of that, Natalie got a cold which she then passed to me, and I was so numb with grief that I didn’t realize I was having some intense neck and back pain until my mother pointed out to me that I looked like I was in physical pain! Ack. Well. I guess now we know that grief IS good for something. I am still sore, and still sick, a whole week later.

I also felt like I was bashing my head against a wall when it came to outlining. More about that soon.

The Bad which is also the Good:
Last Wednesday, while I was at training for Lifeline, I started crying and couldn’t stop. This is usually a really good indicator to me that something has to change. I realized that I was feeling anxious about the whole thing – not because of the nature of the work, but because of the time commitments and the fact that my children are still so little. I decided to pull out now, and delay it for another couple years when I will have a more flexible time table, and the kids are in school. This was sad because it IS something I really want to do. But it’s also really good because I wasn’t ready to be ‘working’ outside of the house, and I was able to figure out what was wrong and how I could fix it.

More Good:
I got a book in the mail!

I nailed my outline for TCM!!!

And, what’s more, felt so excited to have figured out a way to do it, that I decided to work on outlining the rest of Sun-Touched. It was good timing, as I realized if I kept writing without knowing what was going to happen, I would end up floundering. I’ve had some exciting thoughts about the novel, and while I’m still working on finishing off the outline, at least now I have faith in my ability to solve problems, and figure out sequences and structure. I know that the right information will come to me soon enough.

Phew. There we have it. The week and a half that was. I’m feeling a lot more positive this weekend, and the initial haze of grief has passed. I still feel a little hollow, a little tender, a little like I am missing my shadow. I know that the ache will fade though the memory of her never will.

There are lots of good things in my future, and lots of things to smile about. So I am going to focus on those and look forward to everything that’s to come.

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A paper book!

I got mail a few days ago, lovely, wonderful, paper book mail. It’s been over a year since I read a paper book (I am not calling it a ‘real’ book because I think of a book as whats on the pages, not what those pages are made of), and nothing has really tempted me to break that dry spell.

However, this book is different for several important reasons. Firstly, it’s the debut release from Steam Press, NZ’s own publisher of speculative fiction. Secondly, there is a Tim Jones comment on the back that says “If the Dalai Lama and Terry Pratchett collaborated on a novel, it might read something like this.” (Come on, tell me you don’t want to read it after that??) Thirdly, it’s set in Dunedin, NZ – yay local genre fiction! And fourthly, well it’s just GORGEOUS!!!

Here, see for yourself:

I love the drawings, and there are other cool things inside as well – but you’ll have to get your own copy to really enjoy them. As I said on twitter the day I received it, I would totally buy more paper books if they looked like this. I LOVE flicking through and looking at all the bits.

Anyways, I read the first chapter earlier and am looking forward to reading more tonight. This book is available as of March 14th!!

From the back cover:

What happens when we die?

This has been the third question on mankind’s FAQ list since the dawn of time (numbers one and two being: Is this edible? and Excuse me, would you care to breed?).

I know what happens. Believe me, I’d rather not. But I do.

There is a lighthouse, and it guides our souls along the narrow path to being reborn as humans. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as my undead grandad and the Tibetan special-mission monk in my kitchen have kindly told me, there’s a problem with the lighthouse. And if the world is to be saved, someone needs to fix it. 

Which is where I come in: George Larson, eighteen years old. Who could possibly be better suited to save the world?

Well, almost anyone. Especially as being a teenage guy is nothing at all about question three but all about questions one and two. 

And really, that’s complicated enough as it is.

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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.