Tag Archives: Devin Madson

So, I didn’t win a thing…

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay. It’s pretty damn awesome. It’s career-goal, achievement-unlocked awesome!

It’s been about two weeks since the Aurealis Awards were announced, and while my short story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine), was a finalist in the fantasy short story category, it didn’t get over the line. That honour went to one of the best humans I know, J. Ashley Smith for his tale: The Further Shore.

For those who don’t know, the Aurealis Awards are the premier literary awards for genre fiction in Australia. With the amount of talent on these shores, becoming a finalist is a massive undertaking and I count this as a hell of a win. To be included in this shortlisting was a welcome surprise, and I was chuffed to be on the ticket with one of my closest ‘people’ – the wonderfully crazy Alan Baxter – plus the other amazing authors putting out stellar work not only in this category but all categories.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t have loved the win – we all want to win, we’d all like awards and trophies and that acknowledgement of the work we put into musings. But small steps are forward momentum, and forward momentum is good momentum. Next step in career goal – Aurealis win.

bloody pen

Child of the Emptyness has an unusual origin – it was born from rage. Too often I was seeing female characters in battle situations being the only ones who cried or were horrified by the sight of blood (note for dude-bros: blood isn’t foreign to us, we see it every month for goddamn years), and I was done. From that rage Nyrra was born in all her blood-wearing, human-sacrificing, don’t-fuck-with-me glory. Is she empathetic? Maybe not, but she was never really drawn that way. She’s unapologetically herself. That’s what I like about her.

When I subbed this story to Grimdark Magazine, I was hopeful of a shortlisting, then chuffed to bits with an acceptance. The Aurealis finalist berth was the icing on a very cool cake, and while I couldn’t quite land the ‘cherry’ (yep, I see it), all told, it’s been pretty sweet.

There are people I need to thank that helped me get there. Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for selecting and having faith in my story, and Mike Myers for his excellent editorial touch. And Devin Madson whose constant kicks up the bum to get the story written and her deft insight brought Nyrra fully into the light.

So while I didn’t win a thing, I won so very much. This finalist nod came at a time when I was seriously doubting my ability to tell a good story, a worthy story. We all have those moments. Sometimes they’re fleeting while other times those moments burrow deep, latching talons to bone and tainting your storyteller-marrow. It’s a world of shit, that feeling, but I’ll take the days where the talons aren’t as sharp, where the ‘I can do this’ voice drowns out the ‘no you can’t’.

And for those of you who also didn’t win a thing, I feel you. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep making magic – it’s the best gig in the world.

Awards and Such Things

So a thing happened last week. My story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine #17), made the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards in the ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ category. To say I’m stunned is an understatement. To say I’m chuffed to bits – also understatement.

Apart from the awesomeness that is being shortlisted, what makes this doubly, or even triply special is the amount of friends I find myself amongst – two of which are ‘my people’ (yes, it’s a thing, we all have them, I wrote about it). It’s a bit of a convoluted web this one, as I find myself sharing the fantasy story nod with one of my closest of people, Alan Baxter, who also got a nod in the ‘Best Fantasy Novel’ category, which also contains another of my closest of people (and bestie), Devin Madson.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! Also please find drinking buddy and he of the best-laugh-ever, J Ashley Smith in the Fantasy Short category. Add in the most wonderful Sam Hawke in the Fantasy Novel shortlist and… how the hell are you supposed to choose?  Huh? Huh?

And there are so many more: Joanne Anderton, Kaaron Warren, Rivqa Rafael, Maria Lewis, Shauna O’Meara, Kylie Chan… I couldn’t be more pleased for these wonderful people and amazing authors. The breadth of talent in this list is incredible to see – Aussie fiction is a deep, rich pool of unique voices that deserve to be read.

Make Good Art

But I want to make a shout-out to those who didn’t make the list. That’s right, you there, who sits down and makes word-babies every day (or every week, or whenever you can), you’re a goddamn star. To those who have the writer-imposteritis shouting in the ear yet still create worlds that are as vivid as the one in which we live – keep creating! To those who hope their tales will get the nod for which they so wish, then wonder what they need to do when their name doesn’t appear – I see you, I hear you, I feel you… I am you. We’ve all been there. Don’t give up. Because that character that’s whispering in your ear, urging you to tell their story may just be the tale those judges need. And if not? Well, you’ve created. You’ve put yourself out in the world, given joy to those who read it, and you should be damn well proud.

You got this.

Festivus Book Pimping — We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Jingle Bells, mofos! It’s Festivus Booking Pimping time again, and up on today’s humble stone is Devin Madson’s epically awesome We Ride the Storm, the first in her Reborn Empire tetralogy. And it’s a hell of a story – one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read. Like ever.

In my last Pimpus, I spoke of killer opening lines, and Madson more than delivers with hers: It is harder to sever a head than people think.

That should give you some idea of the tone of the book, but you’d be mistaken in thinking the act of beheading is barbarous, cruel in its intent. Far from it. And that’s the thing with Madson’s work, it’s beautiful in its storytelling, the language and imagery a joy to read, and her characters burrow deep beneath your skin and take root.

We Ride the Storm is told through the eyes of three point-of-view characters, each told in first-person narrative. A symbol at the beginning of each chapter marks through whose eyes you’ll be viewing the world for a time, but the voices are distinct, individual, unique. And you will have favourites (yup, in the plural).

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

We Ride the Storm has also just become a finalist in the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off’ (SPFBO), gaining a top ten spot out a whopping three hundred entries. That’s the quite the feat, and a testament to the brilliance of this book.

Yes, this book is self-published, and for those who think SP-books are of lesser quality, you couldn’t be more wrong. We Ride the Storm is self-publishing done right. And that divine cover is original artwork by the uber-talented John Anthony Di Giovanni, with layout and cover design by Shawn T King (the two officially known as the ‘dream team’). As you can probably tell, the setting for the book is non-Euro centric, and the descriptions of the lands of Kisia and Chiltae are superb. And there are horses, lots of horses.

The magic is low-level, and there are hints at a greater magic that underlies those such as Cassandra and secondary character, Leo. But as the first in the Reborn Empire, the intrigue of what’s at play carries damn well throughout the story.

I cannot recommend this book enough (GO BUY IT! NOW!), and for those waiting on the next instalment in the series, We Lie With Death is on schedule for a March 2019 release.

Recommended for (everyone) those who love dark fantasy, political machinations, grimdark, epic fantasy, clash of cultures, and just damn fine writing.

Not recommended for those who have an aversion to violence – war is not filled with rainbows and unicorns… although unicorns do come with their own weapon…

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: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.

Blurb:

You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.

Shadows

 

And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.

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Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.