life, writing

Sucker for punishment

WP_20140424_002All my life I’ve had the tendency to pile more on. Someone needs a hand with something? I’ll offer to help out. Friend is going through a rough patch? I’m there to prop them up. A job needs doing and no-one else will step up? Then I’m your gal.

A lot of people call me a sucker for punishment. I work hard. Once I commit to something I am all in. I keep going, keep trying, keep working until the job is done and my goal is achieved. Even when the odds are against me. Even when it stresses me out. Even if I chose the path under less than ideal circumstances.

I’m getting a little better at saying no, but I’ve come to realize that some of the things I have taken on that sounded like they were ‘too much’ are some of the best things I have done.

Like becoming a Brownies leader for my daughters unit. The thought petrified me. OMG 20 or so 7-9yr olds, all waiting for me to… do… stuff… Yeah. Sometimes I still feel really anxious about that. There is a lot of planning involved. Hours a week to get organized for the programme and then run it. Sometimes there is very little in the way of parent help. There are reports to write, and meetings to attend and stuff on the weekends at times – but you know what? It’s really rewarding. The week I realized that the girls actually LIKED me, and weren’t just going along with my plan because that’s what you do was seriously awesome. I’m so pleased that I put my hand up when no-one else would.

Other things have been becoming the Education officer at Playcentre – I got an immense sense of achievement by helping people get through their courses and at the time we finished up at the centre we had the highest level of education we’d had in over a decade. All down to me. I got to remember that actually, I’m a really organized person and can totally get stuff done – even when it scares me.

Tales for Canterbury is another one. I had young kids and very little experience, but did that stop me? Nope. I grabbed the bull by the horns and rode that thing all the way to the Sir Julius Vogel awards. I got the nerve up to email Neil Gaiman and ask for a story, and he actually said yes.

So there is something to be said for being stubborn. For tackling things you don’t think you have time or the skills for. For being a sucker for punishment. Sometimes the things that seem the hardest, or the scariest, are the most worth doing.

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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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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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All wrapped up

Last week the cheque and a copy of Tales for Canterbury were posted off to the Red Cross. It felt really good to email the authors involved and let everyone know that it was all finalized. Anna posted a summary over on the TfC website, which you can check out here.

The basic gist of it was that:

– We sold 97 ebooks and 285 paperbacks
– After legal deposit, 11 paperbacks remained unsold. We donated one to the Red Cross and ten to the Christchurch Writers’s Fesitval
– We raised a total of $4,132.00 for the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal

And as far as I am concerned those are lovely figures. What started out as an idea that I was uncertain I could pull off became this crazy, big reality which sold better that expected, raised more than I could have hoped for, and even won an award.

I will always be grateful for this experience, and I am so thankful to Anna, Random Static, our huge list of amazing authors, my wonderful designer friend Emily, and everyone else who helped out in one way or another along the path to publication – none of this would have been possible without them, without you.

Thank you all.

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Winning awards

Last night, Tales for Canterbury won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Fiction. Anna was kind enough to post evidence on my facebook page because I was totally surprised!

This anthology taught me so much. It was a huge undertaking that really pushed me out of my writer shell and helped me to build connections with other writers both within New Zealand, and outside of it. Anna was the best co-editor I could ever ask for, and I would totally do it again (though, preferably with a longer deadline! lol).

I’m still a little stunned, and I can’t stop looking at that picture. And grinning.

I’ve said it before on other forms of media, but thanks again to everyone who was involved. And not just those who contributed stories but those who cheered us on and gave us support and encouragement in other ways. This was a team effort, and a total privilege to work on. What began as a way to help Christchurch turned out bigger and better than I ever expected.

Thank you all.

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A Nom!

As some of you will know, the nomination period for the Sir Julius Vogel awards closed at the end of last month. Anna recently informed me (and the official list is out now to make it feel even more real) that Tales for Canterbury made it through to the final ballot! How awesome is that!!!!

Not only that, but there is a HUGE representation on the list by fellow members of SpecFicNZ. In fact, every single novel in the ‘Best Novel’ category was written by a SpecFicNZer. How cool is that? I love seeing other authors I know doing well, and it fills me with joy to know that some amazing books are going to get recognized with one of these:

Isn’t it pretty?

Anyways, I knew we’d had an initial nom, but I didn’t expect to make it onto the top five. It feels pretty amazing to see our names there on the list for Best Collected Work.

While I have you here…we’ve still got copies for sale, but only until the middle of the year! So if you haven’t picked yours up, get in while you still can. It’s a great collection, loaded with stories, and I’m sure you’ll find something in it to tickle your fancy.

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Are you sorted for Xmas yet?

There are just a few weeks left in the year, which means that there are only weeks remaining to purchase the digital version of Tales for Canterbury. It’s the perfect time to gift one to friends or family for Christmas – and don’t forget that all profits go to the Red Cross to benefit Christchurch.

We also still have some print editions available – we’re on our last run of them though, so get in before it’s too late. There are a lot of fabulous stories in this anthology so pick up a copy, introduce yourself to some new writers and support a great cause.

Thanks!

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Welcome, June!

I can’t believe that June is upon us already – the months are flying by – which means it’s time to stop and take stock of where things are.

I got my copy of Tales for Canterbury in the mail today, and am feeling elated about that. After spending so long looking at it on a screen it’s surreal to finally hold it in my hands. I feel like showing it off to everyone, but have to remind myself that not everyone is going to be as excited about it as I am 😉

I am just two scenes short of finishing this draft of the novella – there is some tweaking to do earlier in the piece, a fair bit of it, but I’m feeling good about where it’s at. Now if only I could nail this climax! It’s actually proving really difficult to write.

Following on from that thought, I pulled down my scene notes this morning and my wall is now bare, waiting to be filled with new bits of paper. I am going to spend the next few days collecting bits and pieces for Chasing Ascension, building my wall. I’ve never really done it like this before, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I want some images this time, some inspiration for the different aspects of my novel I need to work on.

I’m excited to get back into the novella. It’s a great story. I think most of all, I’m looking forward to getting the first draft written so that I can give it to my mother to read. She helped build the ideas for it and was really excited about the whole thing. It’ll be great to finally share it with her – she’s been waiting long enough! I started it back in November 2009, but stalled when I found out I was pregnant and got hit by morning sickness. So long ago now…

Other writing stuff is going okay – I finished one story in May, trunked a bunch, and am pleased that my folders are looking and feeling a lot cleaner. I’ve had over a dozen short story rejections this year so far, and no acceptances. So while I am feeling a little bit bummed out about that, there are always new stories to be written, and who knows, maybe those ones will be good enough!

Anyways. I’m thrilled to welcome June in. It’s a gorgeous, sunny, winters day. I have a clean house, washing on the line and we’ve been blowing bubbles and playing hide and seek for most of the day (interspersed with small moments of jumping around gleefully – the kids love that!). I feel really good about where I’m at with life in general. Today, anything is possible.

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Tales for Canterbury – in print!

In case you missed the announcement, the paperbacks have arrived from the printers! And according to Anna, they look very shiny 😉 If you’ve pre-ordered a copy, then it should get to you in the next week or so. If you’ve been holding off, why not head over and place your order now? Poor Anna has to package and post them all! My tongue is safe from all that envelope licking, though I wish I could help out. Like you, I am eager to get my hands on a copy 🙂

It feels amazing to know that everything is done now, and to see tweets and blog posts about people reading it, or looking forward to reading it. I even had the pleasant surprise of seeing that there was a review for it on Goodreads! Already! And it was four stars! Considering the nature of anthologies, and the desire we had to get a range of stories to appeal to a wide audience, four stars is fantastic. You can never please every reader with every story, so I’m thrilled with what was said – even more thrilled that it was from someone I don’t know 🙂

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that for now. Hope everyone is having a good weekend so far.

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Back in the writing chair

Today is the day I get serious about my own writing again. A few things have converged in the last couple of weeks, and that means I have more time on my hands – I hit 50 in Rift about two weeks ago, which means I no longer feel the need to log in during the day (forever playing catch up to Hubby), and Tales is out of my hands with the digital copy now available, and the print version with the printers. I don’t even have any proof reading work at the moment!

Regardless, for the last few days I have managed to avoid writing. I’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel and using every excuse I can find not to just sit down and write. Admittedly, the house has been in need of a good tidy up for awhile now, but I’m running out of those tasks too!

What’s the problem? you ask. It could be any number of things really, but primarily, I think it’s just that I am having trouble changing gear. I’ve been working on the editing side of the table for months now and I need to switch back into writer mode. The only way to do that is to sit down and write. And I am the only person who can get me to do that.

So, that’s that. I’ve opened my novella, and figured out where I’m at. All that’s left is to write.

Off I go. Wish me luck!