Tag Archives: Alan Baxter

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.

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.

Festivus Book Pimping: Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter

All right, who wants monsters? And here I’m talking monsters-of-the-deep variety. You do? Excellent! Well, have I the pimp for you! Book pimp, I mean, not… moving on. So, this monster thing I was talking about before you all fell into the gutter, is of the ancient ilk. Primordial, in fact (see what I did there?). And it’s of the big bitey kind.

Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter is a ‘creature feature’ novel with the search for a monster purportedly living in a Finnish lake. The book follows Australian marine biologist Sam Ashton, who take on the job of scientific sceptic for billionaire-come-batshit-crazy-dude, Ellis Holloway. Along for the ride is a documentary team, led by Joanne Slater; Holloway’s bodyguard, and a local fisherman. On shore, (yes, they get to shore), is local historian Old Mo, who keeps the legend of Lake Kaarme alive.

This book contains myths and legends, nods to Hollow Earth, Jurassic Park, and a little bit of Jaws thrown in to get the pulse racing in those underwater scenes (swim faster, you fools!).  There’s a lot going on in this story, and the authors take the readers on quite the ride… swim… boat… (shut up). There’s horror, suspense, some gore, a little bit of bow-chicka-wow-wow, but this is a slick novel that will have your pulse racing.

Back-cover blurb below:

Sometimes, the legends are true. When eccentric billionaire, Ellis Holloway, hires renegade marine biologist, Sam Aston, to investigate the legend of a monster in a remote Finnish lake, Aston envisions an easy paycheck and a chance to clear his gambling debts. But he gets much more. There is something terrible living beneath the dark waters of Lake Kaarme and it is hungry. As the death toll mounts, Aston faces superstitious locals, a power-hungry police chief, and a benefactor’s descent into madness as he races to find the legendary beast of the lake.

Primordial-full

(Killer cover by the uber-talented Dean Samed of Neostock.)

Buy this book for someone you love, or don’t love, or like a lot or just a wee bit. Look, this is an excellent read with a tight plot, excellent characters, and a monster that will make you wet your pants*. You can’t go wrong.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, creature-feature stories, big-bitey things, legendary creatures, cryptozoology.

 

* No pants were soiled in the reading of this book.  

Print, dammit!

Any one who knows me, knows that when it comes to reading for pleasure, my preference is print books. Always print. I have overflowing bookcases (which means I don’t have enough bookcases), a mountain of ‘to read’ books on my bedside table, stacked neatly on the floor… and anywhere else I can find room. And I tell ya, every time I see them I smile. I mean… BOOKS!

So a couple of years back when Alan Baxter put out the first of his Alex Caine trilogy, Bound, I waited until Supanova Sydney to grab myself a signed copy. The only thing better than a print book is a signed print book. It was a kick-arse story, and you can read my review of it here. Pumped as I was to read the next, I was told, rather sheepishly by Alan, that print copies for books 2 and 3 were still up in the air, but ebook was available.

I flinched. Ebook? But no! I want print! PRINT, dammit!

It’s taken almost two years, but they’re here! Well they will be in June. And the new covers are just brilliant – so much more evocative and in-line with the story within. Take a look.

Caine-Bound-book-page   Caine-Obsidian-book-page   Caine-Abduction-book-page

This does, of course, bring up one problem. Well, not a problem per se, more… well… I can’t have mismatched covers, okay? There. I said it. It’ll drive me nuts. Niggle at me. Like an earworm… constantly whispering: not the same, not the same, not the same.  So three new books it will be. All of which will be signed.

Check out the book blurb for Bound, then do yourself a favour and put these books on your wish list.

Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed – a world he wishes he’d never found.

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

After a fight one night, an enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, claims to know Alex’s secret. Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him along a mind-bending trajectory beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else.

Awards and Such Things

I meant to write this post before I left for my holiday but having two kids who’d rather video game than pack meant all my days blurred. But now it’s time to have a little chat about awards and such things most writers say they care little about but secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) want. Sure, we write because we love it, because we’re driven to create words and worlds, because we’d go crazy if we didn’t, but recognition, be it via a sale, a kick-arse review, an award or recommended read is something every writer craves – that external validation that tells us we’re better than that little voice inside telling us we’re shit.

The first six months of the year are filled with awards (too many to list here), and the Australian Shadows Awards are the latest to hit my shores. Run through the Australian Horror Writers Association, it’s the premier awards for Australian and New Zealand horror that always presents really cool trophies – a different one each year, so you never know what you’re going to get.

AHWA

I had a pony in this race under the ‘edited works’ banner as co-editor (with Geoff Brown) for SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. It was a strong field, up against Simon Dewar’s Suspended in Dusk anthology, and SQ Mag (issue 14) edited by Sophie Yorkston, and with just a week to wait from finalist announcements to the reveal of the winner, it was Sophie Yorkston and SQ Mag who took out the win.

Was I bummed? Sure – who doesn’t want to win an award for the work they’ve put in? Did I edit the anthology with the hopes of winning an award? No. I edited the antho because I got to work with some amazing authors with equally amazing stories. Of that I’m proud. An award win would have been a nice shiny cherry atop a kick-arse cake.

SNAFU cover art

There were four other categories: short fiction, long fiction, novel, and collected works – all with diverse and strong entries, and I was crossing my fingers and toes that two of my buddies (and fellow Sydney SHADOWS boozers) would take out a win.

Huzzahs happened when Andrew J McKeirnan won for his amazing collection Last Year When We Were Young. This is a fantastic collection of shorts that I reviewed here. If you haven’t read it, get off your bum and seek it out – you won’t be disappointed. Andrew’s been a Shadows Award finalist… well, heaps, so it was about time he took out the win. I’m sure he felt the same.

True to form, Alan Baxter took out the win for the short story category with Shadows of the Lonely Dead. He had two nominated works in this category, so that just shows you how much of a damn fine writer he is. Head over to his website and check out his work then buy it. Go on. What are you waiting for?

The novel category was taken out by Aaron Sterns and Greg McLean for Wolf Creek Origins (yes, of the Wolf Creek cinematic fame). Nightmare-inducing fun this! Fun? Okay, so maybe my idea of fun is a little different from yours…

Shane Jiraiya Cummings won the recently renamed Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction with Dreams of Destruction. While I haven’t read this story, I’ve read Shane’s work and I’m not at all surprised he took out this category.

So I didn’t win an award this year – that’s okay. I’ve been a finalist for the Australian Shadows Award, had SNAFU listed as a recommended read on the Bram Stokers’ ballot list, and the reviews for SNAFU have been incredible. I call that a win. I’d be lying if I said it was the ‘win’ I was looking for; you see, I’ve won a Shadows Award for my short fiction, and that’s an addictive high. I want to win another. Hell, I want a win a slew of awards. When I get hit with that writer-imposteritis, the trophy that sits atop my desk tells me I can do this writing thing; that I’m good enough to win an award, no matter what that inner voice says.

011

The big winner here, though, is Aussie horror fiction, which is going from strength to strength, with recognition and appreciation for the power of Australian storytelling making those around the world sit up and take notice. And well they should.

 

Writers and the ‘Real’ World

Writers, by and large, are a solitary folk. We live in our heads as much (if not more) as we do the ‘real’ world. Even when venturing into the gathering places of other humans, a part of our mind is ticking over with story plots, envisioning (and having conversations with) characters, trekking through worlds of our own creation. We function as other non-writerly folk do, but part of us is always lost in our words and our worlds.

imagination

The advent of social media has brought us solitary creatures together, given us a sense of community and understanding. Still, we continued to sit before our screens and ‘interact’ with other like-minded beings, and the sometime sense of isolation drew back a little. However, the thought of interacting face-to-face can often be an altogether different beast. A terrifying thing wrought with insecurity and panic. Our created worlds are safe havens, places we know and love that offer security and acceptance.

So it was with much trepidation (and a little fear, truth be told) that a couple of years ago a small bunch of Sydney horror writers who’d interacted online finally decided a meet was something we should try. You know, in person, face-to-face with conversation and all that jazz. And beer, let’s not forget the beer.

Jo and Cat Me, Tracy and Jase

And so the Sydney SHADOWS was born. That first get-together was a little daunting I have to say, but it soon grew into a core group of about ten who now can’t wait to meet up and talk shop and shenanigans. You see, no one understands a writer like another writer – they get that excitement of a new story/idea, the joy of publication and the suckiness of rejections. They know you live in alternate universes that are as real as the one our bodies inhabit. Among us there’s a wealth of experience and information we readily share with one another, but more than that we’re letting our hair down (well, those of us with hair), swearing up a storm, and acting silly as only writers can. Sure, we get strange looks from those at other tables, but we’re writers – even out in the world we bring our own worlds with us… while creating fantastical places in a hubbub of shouted ideas. (Cake drones! Ahem…)

Rob and Alan Me and Tracy  Jo and Rob Alan and Rob

Three or four years ago if this opportunity had come up, I’m not sure I’d have taken the leap, but now I can’t imagine not meeting up with this lot. We drink, we talk shit, bond over hats, and boy do we laugh. It’s a letting off of steam, of the build-up of all that we carry around in our heads, which can sometimes be very dark stuff.

There are times when my husband will ask: “When are you getting together with your people?” That’s his not-so-subtle way of telling me he can’t help me with the writing stuff that’s driving me crazy, and/or I need to get out of the house (and stop wearing my pyjamas all day).

Alan and Tracy Tracy and Me

Being (physically) around other authors brings a normalcy to what most of us experience when we tell other humans we’re writers (especially a horror writer) – a frown of distaste, a look of incredulity, a gasp followed by ‘but why?’. And meeting up with like-minded specimens is damn inspiring, no doubt about it.

So yes, writers are, by and large, a solitary folk, but when we get together it’s a celebration of what we do and who we are – warts and all. And for writers, there’s not a lot better than that.

Me, Alan, Jason  cat

(If you’re looking for fantastic writers and great reads, check out some of the work from Sydney SHADOWS members: Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks, Alan Baxter, Robert Hood, Andrew J McKeirnan, Marty Young, and Jason Crowe – you can’t go wrong!)

(All pics courtesy of the wonderful Cat Sparks, who can take a photo like no other!)

Review: ‘Bound’ by Alan Baxter

Yep, it’s review time again! Bound by Alan Baxter, is the tenth book I’ve sunk my teeth into this year, and that may not seem a lot to some, but when weighed against my work (which entails a tonne of reading) and my own writing, I’m doing pretty damn well.

So, in keeping with my reading of Aussie authors, Alan Baxter’s tome had crept its way to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Now before we venture much further, this review comes with a disclaimer: Alan is a mate; we’re both part of a group of spec-fic writers (big up Sydney SHADOWS!) who get together as often as we can — but never often enough — to discuss all things writing and books and comics and life and stuff while we drink copious amounts of Fat Yak (but that’s a story for another day).

With the requisite disclaimer out of the way, now comes the requisite spoiler alert:

<insert Dalek voice here> DANGER! DANGER! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! DANGER! DANGER!

Bound is the first book in Baxter’s ‘Alex Caine’ trilogy, published through Harper Voyager. I’m familiar with Alan’s shorter works, so I was looking forward to reading one of his longer pieces. Bound introduces us to Alex Caine, an underground fighter (think MMA) with an uncanny ability to ‘read’ his opponents moves before they’re delivered. He does this via what he calls ‘shades’ (Magesign), and it’s made him top of his game. A usually solitary figure, Caine gets himself into some trouble from a local Sydney ‘gangsta’ (I’ve always wanted to write that word), and with the timely visit from an Englishman, Welby, who knows Alex’s secret, the adventure begins.

Caine-Bound-book-page

To avoid the veritable shitstorm coming Caine’s way, he accepts Welby’s invitation to travel to London. This is the beginning of Caine’s globetrotting quest, and an introduction to a world and magic and “people” (Fey), he never knew existed. Caine is somewhat of a ‘savant’ when it comes to the magic he possesses, and the Fey-world into which he’s been thrust is hard and unforgiving.

Welby needs Caine to decipher an ancient book no one (Fey or Kind) have been able to unlock. From here, things go from bad to worse then worserer (yeah, I said it). The book ‘Uthentia’ holds the remnants of an ancient Fey-godling that wants nothing more than to return chaos to all worlds – human and Fey – and no matter how much Caine wants rid of the book, it’s hitched its trailer to him. Add in the shards of a magical stone (on which his quest balances), Caine is in some serious shit. He’s a conduit, one who’s trying to conquer the bad mojo for survival. Not just his, but that of the worlds.

Baxter’s tale is fast-paced, and the magic he’s created is interesting, and something of which I wanted to know more. He touches on the monsters of popular culture and myth alike, which, for me, only placed me more solidly in Baxter’s world. He also take the writer credo: ‘write what you know’, to heart here. A kung-fu instructor himself, he’s incorporated the fighting skills and lessons of his sifu to see Caine through his quest and internal battle with the magic that’s ‘bound’ itself to him, and you can see that in the believability of the fight scenes.

Caine isn’t alone in travels. A half-Fey, Silhouette, has taken a shine to him, and Caine falls hard and fast for her. I was a little worried Silhouette was the ‘requisite love interest’, but she holds her own, and doesn’t shy from who she is and what she needs to do to survive. Something she doesn’t hide from Caine either. Theirs is a complicated yet strikingly honest relationship (regardless of the secrets each needs to keep).

The two make a formidable force, as do the antagonists in this tale – (the fantastically tuckerised) Hood and Sparks. Nasty pieces of work, both. But well placed against Caine and Silhouette. There are shades of grey through all the characters, and that’s something I liked most about this tale.

blood spatterThere are sections of this story that those with weaker stomachs when it comes to fiction, might have trouble reading. If vivid violence, rough sex, and a shitload of swearing aren’t your cup of tea then this might not be the book for you. But creativity is meant to push boundaries, to take us places that make us wonder at what humanity really means. What’s that saying? ‘Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.’ Baxter does this well while providing a hell of a story to boot.

My only concern is that with such a fast-paced, action-packed first book, sustaining this through books two and three, and upping the ante, might make this a hard act to follow. I’m looking forward to the ride, though, I gotta say.

I’m a bit of a hard taskmaster when it comes to star ratings (you need to really earn a five star from me), and while it took me longer than I wanted to read Bound, it was more that I’m extremely time-poor, than a reflection on the story itself. I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hankered to get back to it (Baxter’s “monsters” are pretty damn awesome), but real life and a tonne of work has a habit of imposing itself on my leisurely pursuits.

So, on a Goodreads scale, I give Bound 5 stars.

five stars