Category Archives: Life and stuff

The Write People

Let’s talk about people. Not random strangers or the fabulous old guy I saw at the bus stop today shouting at passing cars, but those writerly people other writerly people can’t do without… or shouldn’t do without. (This is going somewhere, I swear.)

All right, so we all know writing is a solitary endeavour. I’m talking about the actual act of it – sitting in front of the pc, the laptop, or putting pen to paper old-school. But it shouldn’t be a lonely one. There’s a misguided “romantic” notion of writers holing themselves up in a room, coffee cups balanced precariously as you tap away like a crazy person, the outside world and living people some figment of your imagination because you live wholly within the created and among your characters. And while the coffee cups and crazy person might have a ring of truth, writers need that connection to other writers.

My partner, bless his sarcastically-gifted soul, refers to them as ‘your people’, and he knows when I need to reconnect (for the sanity of us all) … although it’s usually preceded by “day nine of you in your pyjamas”.

This weekend I get to hang out with one of my favourite ‘your people’ – Devin Madson. She makes the trip up to Sydney every year for ComicCon where we can talk all things books, stories, wrangle ideas, talk work, and just shoot the shit. It’s also where we get to catch up with our other writerly friends and revel in the successes of this year and where we think our imaginations will take us next.

There’s a solidarity among writers – no one knows the highs and lows of writing and publishing, the “I’m not good enough”s or the sometimes crippling writer-imposteritis; they’ll empathise, sympathise, and let you know you’re not alone in this gig.

a-mindful-installationA Mindful Installation by Jennie Lynn Paske

But Devin is more than just ‘my people’. You may have seen my announcement of a short story sale to Grimdark Magazine. I’m super chuffed about the sale, not just because it’s a pro-sale, and not just because the story was good enough to be accepted but that the story was actually written. I’m time poor. I run a successful editing business, and work will always take precedence – bills to pay, food to eat, you know the drill –  which means when something has to give, it’s usually writing and sleep (and fuck those people who say “if you want to write, you’ll find the time”, you can shove your self-righteous, guilt-tripping bullshit up your arse… but that’s a post for another day).

Where was I? Ah, yes, Devin. She knows how time poor I am, but she also knows the less I write the more antsy I become.  So with gentle nudges and on-point questioning, she pushed me to write the story that had been gnawing at me, that I thought would be a good fit for GdM. When that first draft was done, she sliced into it like a writing partner should – cutting away the unnecessary and drawing out the good. And so ‘Child of the Emptyness’ was born, and without her it would still be gnawing at my grey matter and making me feel like a failed writer. I also get to share the Grimdark Magazine ToC with her and her awesome story, ‘A Touch of Malice’ – it’s a hell of a win-win.

I’ve written posts about the ‘village’ needed to raise a book, a story but all writers need ‘their people’. You may think you don’t have them, but you do. They’re the ones who will kick you up the bum when they know it’s a kick up the bum you need; they will ask if you are writing with genuine interest and without pressure; they volunteer to critique your work because they want to read your stories, they want you to succeed. This doesn’t have to be an every-day thing, likely it isn’t. But it’s there, and that’s enough to feed the soul.

So a shout-out to my closest of people: Devin Madson (who makes me a better writer, and makes me want to be a better writer); Kirsten Cross (killer storyteller, maker of shenanigans, and my sister from another mother); Alan Baxter (you know why, mister – it’s all in the ‘at least…’ 😊); James A Moore (the kindest of ‘kind sir’s); and Matthew Summers, who never fails to keep me on track.

So find your people, revel in your people, and be the ‘my people’ for others. Like I said, the act of writing is a solitary endeavour, it shouldn’t be a lonely one.

I am woman, hear me swear

This post is brought to you by a random person’s ludicrous assumption that writers who swear (in their books or in any other medium in which they choose to write ‒ yes, even social media) are held to some imaginary higher standard because they should be “capable of being far more eloquent”.

Fuck that noise.

This was in relation to an opinion piece, and much “offence” was taken by the use of the ‘c-word’ (not actually used in the piece), and the ‘f-word’, and the further assertion that the use of those words was especially offensive to women.

She found them offensive, I did not. I am woman, hear me swear. This, somehow, makes me a bad feminist, writer, and woman? Not sure really. Because again, fuck that noise. You’re not my gatekeeper. You’re not the gatekeeper for all women, everywhere, at any given time. Like ever.

I swear. A lot. I use fuck as a noun, a verb, an adjective and have, on occasion, used it as an adverb. I use it to describe things, decry things, denounce and deny things. I use it to uplift, to cheer, to encourage without fear. I use it to heal, in solidarity, to proclaim and protest. I use it as a weapon, a shield; hell, I’ve used it in jest. Don’t tell me it’s only for characters who are villainous, don’t equate it with rape on your soapbox of innocence. I’ll use the word however I choose – my life, my story, my fucking muse.

And I’ll do it in goddamn rhyme.

swear words

I’m a writer – words are my playground. All of them. I can use any I like, any that fit the idea, the narrative, the exposition, voice, character, dialogue I’m wanting to convey. I write horror and grimdark, there’s going to be ‘the swears’. As an editor, it’s my business to know words, their context, their use as storytelling and character devices. This includes all the swears.

And all the swears includes the word ‘cunt’. Yes, I use it. And I own it when I use it. I use it in writing, in dialogue – for characters and in my own. I’ve been called it and called out for it; don’t wear it, don’t use it. It’s offensive, derogatory, demeaning and vulgar. It’s a word that I’ll use, and you need to get over it.

So don’t come at me with your holier-than-thou attitude when you clearly don’t want to debate.

There are those who boo-hoo writers who use curse words in their writing, that it shows classlessness, an inability to write and use words “they” find offensive. That a “true” writer would find other words to get their point across… because by all the gods, vanilla writing that all sounds the same is exactly what readers want. Yes, let’s censor our characters! Why say: “off you fuck” when the snark of “off you fudge” falls so much better from cursed lips. Let’s not be reflective of a character’s true nature, let’s not let natural dialogue flow, or be true to ourselves or our stories.

I’m not going to censor my characters, and I’m sure as shit not going to censor myself because someone else thinks I’m doing things “wrong.” Thing is, I understand that all the swears may not be for you, and that’s fine – you do you. But don’t tell me that I can’t call myself a feminist because I say ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ or any other manner of the swears I deem appropriate for me (or my characters). You don’t like it? Well, I’d say you can “fudge” right off.

Con Magic

It’s been four days since Supanova Sydney packed up, and I’m sufficiently recovered to write a little somethin’-somethin’ on why conventions are not just fun but necessary. When I was a kid, there was no real gathering place to get your geek on. Sure, there were comic book stores a-plenty, but most didn’t want you hanging around all day after you’d spent your meagre pocket-money on the latest edition of Wonder Woman, Batman or The Tomb of Dracula and the like.

Relegated to the back carpark of the local council while we read and traded and talked all things comics as we skateboarded, it was the closest thing to a ‘con’ we had. And we revelled in it. Halloween wasn’t a thing when I was kid, so the opportunity to ‘cosplay’ was rare to non-existent.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and the culture is celebrated in all its glory – it’s a wondrous thing, filled with joy and excitement and acceptance. Yes, there are still issues with misogyny and inclusion and consent, but overall my con experiences have been positive (I’m aware this is not the case for all).

While the last few years I’ve been herding cats… sorry, my kids and their mates through conventions such as Supanova and ComicCon, this year I was on the other side of the Supanova table helping kick-arse author Devin Madson hawk her book-wares, and specifically her new book We Ride the Storm. As you can see by the table display below, the artwork is amazing (book covers matter, kids!), and the stories within are just brilliant.

devin table

The great thing about being on the other side of the table – apart from being surrounded by amazing artists (which we were) – is chatting with people about their love of books, of stories, of the art of writing and how much the tales they read and the characters they discover are very much a part of them. As someone who has a passion for both writing and editing, seeing that same passion in readers, of those who want to be writers, is an incredible thing to be a part of. No back carparks for these folks, they are out and proud in the geekdom, and it lifts the soul.

Cons allow writers to indulge in our love of all things books, to reunite with ‘our people’, and I even managed to scarper over to Alan Baxter’s table and pick up the promised books (The Book Club, Manifest Recall, and Hidden City), all signed, of course. And got to side-eye Raymond E Feist who was sitting next to Al – the line for Feist’s signature is definitely something to aspire to!

I also picked up issue #1 of Melbournian artist and writer, Mark Sheard’s, new comic The Flower of Rhode, plus a set of six funky coasters he’d made – of course I need funky coasters to rest my coffee mugs on. And I watched on as he created new characters for the next issue of his comic. The man has talent to spare.

Yet it’s the fans, those who love everything about books and comics and gaming and movies, of art and artists and the incredible creations found in Artists Alley that make the cons what they are – they’re the heart of fandom, who make creators keep creating.

We met kids scouring local author tables looking for their next read, we spoke to book lovers and voracious readers, and chatted to an ex-MMA fighter who proudly showed the dress he’d sewn for his daughter (in two days!) and was specifically looking to buy from Australian indie writers as a way of support – he was an awesome human.

We saw Deadpools and Doctors, Wonder Women and Wonder Men, Jedis and Stormtroopers and all manner of Darths. There was anime and My Little Pony, Aliens and Ripleys and Lara Crofts, superheroes and villains and a horde of Vikings that truly took it to another level. Everywhere you looked was another amazing outfit, another intricate piece painstakingly hand-made. Not once did I see a kid turned away from wanting their photo taken with a character, not once did I see someone mocked for their attire – it was a delight.

But I think it was best summed up by a grandmother I was chatting to while we both waited on our caffeine fix, and who was attending her first con with her grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled as she looked around at everything, her lips spreading wider in smile as her gaze lit upon the elaborately hand-made cosplay of ‘Big Daddy’ from Bioshock.

“It’s magic,” she said, her whisper filled with wonder. “In a world sorely lacking it.”

She’s not wrong.

Don’t Be A Cock (*trademark pending*)

There’s little doubt you’ve heard of the furore/shitstorm/WTFedness going on over in Romancelandia regarding a certain author and their trademarking of a particular word to the exclusion of all other authors/titles. If you haven’t, head over to Twitter and the #CockyGate saga. Be careful, it’s a rabbit hole – you’ve been warned.

This isn’t how I intended to spend the start of my Monday morning, but I’m caffeinated and well, it’s Monday. So while I will wade into the sea of shit this author (she’ll get no naming rights here) has created, I’m not going to go into the epically stupid thing she’s attempting nor the blatant hypocrisy she trying to foist into her narrative (it’s outstanding), or the ‘How to Commit Career Suicide’ this so very much looks like. But I will address a few things; while this author plies her trade in the romance genre, this affects every author in every genre and sub-genre.

The first thing to get straight is that it’s a trademark she’s attempting, not copyright – two different things. If you’re going to go head-to-head with her and/or weigh in on this debate, please get that piece of information right. I’m not going to go into the legalities of it here, there are greater (and more willing) minds than mine to do that. But use the right term.

This author is using intimidation tactics to have other indie authors with the word ‘cocky’ in their book titles make changes or she will sue. Yep, you read that right. And one of the things she continually spouts is her “graciousness” to allow them to keep their earnings and reviews, so the changes they “must” make aren’t a big deal and won’t cost the author anything.

Yeah, that’s the bullshit I want to talk about. Indie, or self-published authors don’t have the backing (and funds) of those authors traditionally published. It costs money to edit your book, it costs money for cover art, it costs money for cover design/layout, it costs money to advertise. All of these expenses come out of the often very empty pockets of an indie author. Any changes to books currently uploaded to any and all platforms will require funds to have those changes made. It will cost not only money but time, and time lost often equals money lost, potential readers lost, potential sales lost. To threaten another author into doing so is delusional at best, reprehensible at worst.

All writers, myself included, write because to not do so hurts the soul. To have that passion stomped on, threatened, bullied, isn’t going to win you any favours, it isn’t going to win you readers, and it sure as shit isn’t going to win you market-share (or dominance).

Look, publishing is hard, getting your name out and your books sold in today’s market is hard, but you don’t go about it by stepping on other authors, you don’t go about it by trying to bankrupt other authors out of the market. It’s a big fucking table we’re sharing, and there’s room for everyone. And there are plenty of readers to go around.

Think of it as Ægir’s feast – your ale horns will never be empty, and there’s a regenerating boar outside providing limitless bacon for all.

Don’t try and block seats at the table, lest you want the chair pulled out from beneath you.

Oh, and don’t be a cock… unless you’re this ↓ fabulous!

cock

Minefields and zen

The last six months have been… well, a little bit shit. There’s been good happenings, don’t get me wrong, but working through grief is a minefield. Good days. Bad days. Utter shite days. Minefield. Work has been a constant, which is good – get to pay bills and eat, always a bonus. And I’ve been writing, which is better.

Still, work has been eating up a lot of my time. I love my job, so much so that I don’t quite consider it “work”, although the hours I pull would beg to differ. The last two months especially so. Working from home is one of the many bonuses for my job; but it also means I don’t quite get to work set hours. This means I can be working ‘til midnight. I’m a night-owl, so that helps. I’m also up at 6.30am to squeeze in a run before organising the kids for the day.

It’s a long day. And of late, they’ve been exhausting days… weeks, really. Months, truly. The stories I’ve been working on have been amazing, but the body and mind can only take so much before it puts on the brakes whether you like it or not.

But better than that, is a partner who says: “Fuck this shit, we’re going away – you need a break before you break.” (He’s amazing.)

So we’re packing up the fam, and heading to the country. More specifically, my father’s farm. Three hundred acres of rolling hills, no Internet, crappy phone reception, solar-run facilities, and nothing but birdsong and cattle cries.

I hope to recharge, to do absolutely nothing, and perhaps deal with shit a little more than I have been. Maybe read. Perhaps write.

Remember to take those breaks, folks. Revitalise and recharge. I’ll see you on the other side of this holiday, a calmer, more zen person… and blogging far more regularly!

Farm

‘Tis the season to be… award-y

It’s that time of year again. Award season. Or the nominating and voting of such. It’s a time for writers to really pimp their wares for reader-voted honours, or to pray to all the gods (or none) that it will be their name on a nice, shiny trophy.

I have a love/uncomfortable relationship with awards and the award-season. I’ve been lucky enough to win two Australian Shadows Awards (short fiction & graphic novel), and that’s a pretty damn fine high, I gotta say. Yet the whole idea of pimping my work makes me all kinds of uncomfortable. Sure, it’s part of the gig ‒ I get that ‒ and I do pimp my work because I’d be a fool not to. Some authors, though, have a gift for it. Me? I will pimp the shit out of friends’ work I love, but when it comes to my own… <insert squirming here>

uncomfortable

What I do love about the award season is discovering new work and new authors. With so many books on the market, not all of which are good, and some that really have no right to be there (I’m looking at you, unedited books with shite covers), award season hones those great reads down for me. As an editor, my personal reading time is precious, so a poorly edited or plot-hole riddled book will make me stabby.

Speaking of segues, the first lot of awards are in – The Best of Fantasy Stabby Awards, as voted by Reddit. Not only does the ‘Stabby’ have a sword as its trophy (like, what else?), but this year an Aussie nabbed one of those swords for himself. Evil is a Matter of Perspective (Adrian Collins, ed.), put out through Grimdark Magazine.

The preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards has also been announced, with some Aussie and Kiwi writers making their mark this year as well. Big up Alan Baxter for The Book Club;  Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts for Hounds of the Underworld; and Aussie blogger Adrian Bookhead up for superior achievement in blogging for Grim Reader Reviews.

But wait, there’s more! The Aussie awards are open for nominations too: Australian Shadows, Aurealis, and Ditmar. Get eligible works in, folks, if you haven’t already.

Look, there’s probably a tonne more that are open, and the social media dance of books and nominations and votes and publicity and ‘read my book’ is inevitably coming, and it can be exhausting. Thing is, if your name isn’t King, Rowling, or Gaiman (for instance), chances are you work another job (or two) to pay bills and do things like eat. So award season is the opportunity to get your name and your work out there to new readers who just may buy your book. It may put you on the radar for future book deals. It could make a writer’s life a bit easier.

Conversely, awards aren’t the value of your work. I’ll say that again: AWARDS AREN’T THE VALUE OF YOUR WORK! I’ve read brilliant pieces that never won an award or made a shortlist. I’ve written stories I thought were pretty damn good that didn’t get a look in. It can be like a punch to the gut, no doubt, but awards don’t define you as a writer. They help, sure, and those trophies sitting on your desk or shelf are suh-weeeet, but once it’s all said and done, you’re still putting ink to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

What it boils down to is: MAKE GOOD ART. That’s all you can do. And if you’re shortlisted for an award, I tip my hat to you (it’s a fabulous hat). And if not? Keep writing, my friend, it’s the act of creating that draws you back to words, not the awards. Besides, there’s always next year.

 

2017: Heroes and Vikings, and the Shit Year it was

If it were up to me, I’d wrap 2017 in a whole pile of monkey shit and set that bitch afire. Twice. But part of me wants to hold tight to 2017, to never let that first part of it go. There was good in my 2017, but the shit… oh, the shit. When I look back on this year, I can see the wonderful in it: the successes, the people I’ve met, and those I’ve surrounded myself with. Of that, I am thankful, but the last half of this year especially was life-changing in a way you never want it to be. The way no one ever wants it to be.

There are some things you just never get over, and the loss of my mother darkens any good this year threw my way. This is the first time I’ve mentioned her passing publicly, and I’m not going to go into how amazing she was (she’s a hero, my hero), and how hard she fought (like a fucking Viking), or how fucked-up disease is (I never knew how much I could hate a thing), or how much I miss her (there’s an ache inside that will never go away). She deserves so much more than I could ever put into words.

Writing has always been a solace, but I’m only now starting to think of words again. Small and simple though they be, it’s a start. There’s a normalcy to it that my heart sometimes fights ‒ how can I be ‘normal’ again? But I can almost feel that slap upside my head. Like I said, a fucking Viking.

2017 was the year I had my mother. It was the year I did not.

So I wrote a thing, not long before the world ripped away what was light and good. It’s nothing special, but it’s from a life to which I can never return. A life where my mother’s heart beat in fierce defiance.

I wonder at its content; it resonates now in a way it didn’t when I wrote it. And while I want to see the end of this shittiest of shittest years, I also want to hold onto it and never let it go.

HARVEST

“In blood Skarja walks, the souls of all she’s killed the great shadow at her back!” Mira shouted above the storm’s fury as I grabbed my scythe. “My dreams do not lie!”

Too long I’d stayed; lines appearing on my wife’s face where they never would on mine. I’d run, draw Skarja away. Mira would be spared. This time, no children had I sired.

Howling winds rattled the shutters of our hut as Mira dragged me from the door. “She comes! Your name upon her lips!”

Fear for me darkened her eyes. That was why I’d loved again when I’d sworn nevermore. My kiss lingered, savouring lips I hoped would never curse my name.

“Flee,” I begged. “Wipe me from memory.” I charged into the storm. If I could get to the mountains, if—

Skarja loomed from the maelstrom, spitting my name like venom. “Evka.”

A thousand cuts glistened on her ebony skin, like lightning under the moon’s touch. I knew each one. Had delivered them with hate-fuelled rage ­‒ desperate for what she had that I did not. The shadow behind Skarja writhed as she gathered it to her, faces of the damned morphing into great black wings ‒ shredded and shrieking.

“Not Mira.” I discarded my weapon; dropped to my knees. “Please, not my Mira.”

Skarja laughed; drew me close. Wings wrapped tight tore into my flesh. “You cannot kill a god,” she whispered ‒ words we’d traded since the dawn of the world.

I screamed Mira’s name as Skarja ripped out my heart, taking it as her own. Memories shattered as my twin fled into the night with the one heart we eternally shared.

In the doorway of a hut, a woman sobbed as I gathered my scythe. She, the first harvest for my great shadow.

 

malfunction_by_skirill-d9m0frr

Art: Malfunction by Skirrill