The August free short fiction piece sees Maureen reshare a crime/horror piece.
Regular readers may remember that I got my first ever pro-short story acceptance at the start of this year with the CSFG A Hand of Knaves anthology. Since then, I’ve been a busy beaver, sending off shorts left, right and centre. I even got three…
This is a great article on prolific writers. I need to print this list out and stick it to my writing office wall!!!
Deborah O’Brien is an Australian writer and visual artist. She is the author of the bestselling Mr Chen’s Emporium, its sequel The Jade Widow, plus A Place of Her Own and The Trivia Man, as well as a dozen non-fiction books. Her latest novel is…
I really loved Bad Power and I wanted more. I didn’t actually think that Deborah would agree to an interview, but to my pleasant surprise, she did. Not only has she supplied me with lengthy answers, many are also very thoughtful. Read on to find out more about Deborah’s work, influences, reading habits and writing tips. There might even be a teaser or two for upcoming stories…
1. You write across a lot of genres and markets. Have you always been so eclectic or when you started out did you have a ‘go to’ market and genre?
Wow, what WAS I thinking when I started out? Feels like it was a long time ago.
I think I mostly just suck at knowing what the genre boundaries actually are. My reading is pretty eclectic, hence my writing is, too. I was surprised when people started telling me I was writing horror. I never really set out to write horror, but it was a big influence on me in my teen years so it inevitably appeared in my writing. Maybe that’s the reality of writing: you become your influences.
I don’t recall having a ‘go to’ market or genre. Not on purpose. Starting out was all a bit random. 😉
Nowadays what I most love to read and write are stories with a contemporary setting and an element of the weird or supernatural. But even then, I don’t stick to that preference completely. I’m always going to need something different and new and maybe even apparently random in my reading and writing life.
2. You got your writing break by publishing short stories over a number of years. What are your top tips for writing a powerful short story?
Oh, man, there’s probably a different answer for every short story writer — or every short story. Short stories are a sprint, whereas novels are a marathon, so the needs are different. What I like in a powerful short story is the sense that the story has ended before it has finished. If you know what I mean? I like the feeling there’s *more* to the story, but the storyteller just didn’t have the time or space to share it. That, for me, provides a kind of urgency to the telling. You get to the end and start to wonder what in hell is about to happen next.
For example, powerhouse Karen Joy Fowler ends her story Younger Women with two possible ways forward. But you just know there are more options she’s not telling you about. And you leave the story wondering which way it went after Fowler ended it. Check it out here.
But that’s just one answer and I’m sure there are dozens more ways to think of powerful short story writing.
3. While we’re discussing short stories, which is your favorite short story that you’ve written and why?
My favourite short story is always whichever story I’ve just finished writing. Srsly. It really is. I spend quite some time thinking my most recent story — whatever it is — is the best work I’ve managed so far. And then I replace it in my affections with another, newer story. My newest short story is coming out in Fablecroft’s Cranky Ladies of History later this year and features the Countess Bathory. So you just know that’s gonna be a blast!
And apart from always loving my newest story, I admit to being particularly proud of No Mercy For The Executioner which appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction in late 2014. (So, it’s my second-most-recent short story.) That story began in a dream, which turned into the first line: ‘When the world ends, it’s the Jewish guy who brings the sake.’ I grew up on post-apocalyptic stories: when I was a teenager, we all thought nuclear war would decimate the world any second. Plus, as a kid raised quasi-Catholic, I can remember earnestly discussing the imminent second coming in first grade. But I’ve never been much attracted to actually writing post-apocalyptic stories until I wrote Mercy and then I just kinda let loose. Teenagers, holed up underground, drinking the last of Earth’s liquor and eating tinned peaches. And then the violence begins… Oh, yeah, that’s a fun story.
4. Bad Power mixes police procedural with speculative fiction. What are your top 3 crime reads? How about top 3 spec fic reads?
Ooooohhh!! Top reads! I love questions like this. Yeah, BAD POWER mixed two things I love. Well, maybe three. 1) crime stories 2) spec fic, and 3) contemporary settings.
Okay, top 3 crime reads would have to start with Kate Atkinson’s CASE HISTORIES, which I loved. I grew up on Agatha Christie books, and THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD stands out. Then maybe Nicola Griffith’s THE BLUE PLACE counts as crime. But it was probably Walter Mosley who made me want to write crime, so I’m going to sneak in DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (plus, this is really five now, but a special mention to the first of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, THE COLD DISH (which is a kind of western cosy, if you can believe that)).
Spec fic is harder because *cough* it seems so much broader (not that I want to play favourites). Also I never classify spec fic as spec fic in my goodreads reading list, so now I’m screwed trying to remember all my favourite spec fic reads. ;p
But I do have to mention Ben H. Winters’ THE LAST POLICEMAN, since it’s a mix of crime AND spec fic. And so is the excellent BAD THINGS by Michael Marshall Smith.
My all-time-favourite spec fic reads would have to include Tanith Lee, though, so let’s say THE BIRTHGRAVE. Oh! And Mary Gentle’s ASH! Aaaaaand, crap, so many others. I’m trying to think of something that’s really stayed with me, so I’ll go with Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. But, y’know, so many.
InkAshlings: I am so updating my Goodreads with some of these suggestions! Also, I love Christie!
5. Will there be more books or short stories set in the world of Bad Power and can you tell readers anything, even a cryptic clue?
I didn’t actually set out to write BAD POWER, you know. It started as two stories that shared some eerily similar traits: Shades of Grey and Palming the Lady. I realised I had this strong woman cop in both stories, so I decided to make her the same character. I was probably just being efficient. I think I was also influenced by the fact a couple of early readers both said they loved Detective Palmer. Which kinda surprised me, because I didn’t have a lot planned out for her at that stage. But she’s become a bit of a hero of mine.
She’s also pretty similar to the strong woman cop I invented for my ISHTAR novella, even though I wrote those stories at completely different times. See? Random. It’s like I never plan out anything in my ‘career.’
And then, of course, the stories were saved from the obscurity of individual publishing by the Twelfth Planet Press project: Twelve Planets. TPP collected those two stories and three more that I’d only kinda started working on in one volume. We called the BAD POWER collection a ‘pocketbook police procedural.’
I did start plotting a BAD POWER novel out in my head, but certain other projects have gotten in the way. But Bad Power: The Novel might become a labor of love one day when I get some time. I mean, I had this whole structure and back story for it. Hopefully I’ve written that down someplace. Actually, y’know, even if I haven’t I still remember it pretty clearly. I’ve really got to get faster at finishing stories. I have a WHOLE BUNCH MORE I want to write.
And BTW: Fablecroft published a 6th Bad Power story in their anthology One Small Step in 2013. The story was called Indigo Gold and featured a new character, some new powers, and a hat pin. So, yeah, I’m sure I’ll end up writing more of those stories in one way or another. I love my BAD POWER world and I love all those crazy, creepy characters. BAD POWER is one project I’m inordinately proud of.
6. You are currently collaborating on a couple of projects, including a novel and a graphic novel. What does the collaboration process look like for you?
It looks like a whole lot less stress & a heck of a lot more fun than coming up with all the answers yourself! And suddenly the planning becomes really fun. The writing is pretty much just as hard (or not hard, depending), but the planning is really where collaborating shows its strength. I recommend it heartily!
7. What’s your advice for those writers that want to try collaborating on a project?
Pick someone to lead the project. You might not know who that person is at the very beginning, but sooner or later you all have to agree which member of the team owns the vision & voice. Without that, the project runs the risk of becoming a ‘writing by committee’ project. And the thing about committees is, all the best, more unique and risky stuff often gets dissolved in favour of relentless compromise. In a good collaboration, one person knows whether or not what you’re pitching is going to fit the project.
My other advice would be: if you’re NOT the leader or the owner of the vision, never stop pitching. Sometimes you might want to give up on sharing your ideas because you think they’re stupid or you think people will laugh. And people will often laugh. But the team will miss out on some good stuff if you give up on yourself too soon. Believe that!
8. You’ve also written a novella for the Ishtar collection and have an upcoming novella called Waking in Winter coming soon. What is it that appeals to you about the novella and what are the ingredients for a great novella?
I’m so excited about WAKING IN WINTER. PS Publishing bought that novella in 2013 & scheduled it for around mid-2015, so I can’t wait to see it on the page. We’ve just finished copy edits. And I’m still really proud of my ISHTAR novella with the comically long name, And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living (for real, I started out with that title as a kind of joke, but I just love the enormity of it, so it stayed.)
I’ve only tried novellas those two times, but I’ve fallen madly in love with the format as a reader and writer. I think it lets you play with all the best aspects of novels — character, adventure, stakes, narrative — without the dross that people often have to use to make a novel more novel-length. So many novels feel like they sag in the middle, just IMHO. Or maybe I’m easily bored. Actually, yeah, I am easily bored.
I think the other thing I like about novellas is that they’re short enough to sustain the kind of mood a short story can deliver. A very mannered or stylized novel can feel very long indeed. But a stylized novella can still pack a punch without losing any momentum.
So that’d be my pick for novella ingredients: character AND style AND narrative AND mood AND momentum. Love novellas. Wish they were easier to find. PS Publishing has put out some doozies, so it’s worth checking their pages first.
9. What’s one question you’ve never been asked before but wish you had been asked?
I racked my brain for an answer to this question. Then I eventually realised that no one has ever quite asked me this: What’s the one piece of advice you wish you’d been given when you were starting out?
10. Now answer it!
Sabotage and salvation will come from unexpected sources. Srsly. Very unexpected sources. The entire idea of a writing ‘career’ is unpredictable in the extreme. The only thing you can do is keep writing. That way, you’re practised and ready for the salvation when it happens. And you can move past the sabotage when it’s delivered. So that’s it, the best advice you’ll get as a starting-out writer: Just. Keep. Writing.
Deborah Biancotti is the author of two short story collections from Twelfth Planet Press: Bad Power and A Book of Endings. She is co-author of the Zeroes trilogy with Scott Westerfeld and Margo Lanagan. Deborah’s novella Waking in Winter will be out with PS Publishing in mid-2015. The first Zeroes book is published in September. You can find Deborah online, but she spends more time on Twitter than anywhere else.
You can read my review of Bad Power here. Thanks again for a great interview, Deb!
Can you believe it? An interview with the great Kate just in time for Easter (and no I’m not talking about Australia’s favourite LOTR elven Queen). Kate has written a number of books for a wide range of genres and audiences. This is my first…
This month the great eVolution debate is here courtesy of beloved Australian author, Isobelle Carmody. Never one to bite off more than she can chew, she has decided to independently re-release her 1997 novel Greylands as an ebook with a bang. Enlisting the help of web designer Min Dean…
Sydney Writer’s Festival 2012: A Neverending Story: Fantasy Worlds Panel with Isobelle Carmody, Justine Larbalestier, and Scott Westerfeld
Yesterday I took notes at the Sydney Writer’s Festival on this panel, so I thought I’d write up a post for those that couldn’t make it. Any mistakes in the notes are my own, as no recording devices were allowed. I tried to only scrawl down things relevent to fantasy generally, rather than parts where authors spoke very specifically about their own work.
A NeverEnding Story was facilitated by freelance reviewer and interviewer, Joy Lawn. Isobelle Carmody is the author of multiple speculative fiction novels and short stories for young adults and adult readers. She is most famous for her Obernewtyn Chronicles, but she has received many awards for her other work, most recently, for her children’s book The Red Wind, also illustrated by Isobelle. Justine Larbarlestier is author of the Magic or Madness trilogy, and debuted with her realist novel, Liar. Scott Westerfeld has written Uglies, Midnighters, and more recently a trilogy of steampunk novels beginning with Leviathan.
Joy: What is speculative fiction and which sub genres have you chosen to write in?
Justine: Everything that isn’t boring- world’s that I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve written Team Human with Irish author, Sarah Rees Brennan.
Scott: World’s with new rules- alternative world’s which really captivate the reader. My latest book, Leviathan, is steampunk.
Isobelle: As a kid I didn’t have tv, or travel, and I lived on housing commission. For me, speculative fiction was anything set in new locations that were unfamiliar to me, like Peru or somewhere, but I also don’t like to label with specific genres.
I like to think that I use certain tools and utensils when I write a story, and for me, speculative fiction embodies the tools and utensils I always come back to.
Travel is really important as a writer. It takes you out of your comfort zone and strips you back to who you really are. My new collection of short stories, Metro Winds, is about mental journey’s, and the metamorphosis caused by travel. You reinvent, and reintepret yourself and your worldview when you’re travelling. Speculative fiction really suits exploring these ideas.
For me, speculative fiction is really about personal philsophical questions. Speculative fiction is speculative.
Joy: What are some key themes in your books?
Isobelle: In Obernewtyn, it’s about why human beings are both so great, and capable of so much greatness, and yet so terrible? What makes humanity the way it is?
Scott: In Leviathan, I wanted to write about airships and tanks, and once I knew that, my setting kind of defined both my genre, and even themes to some extent. Life is super, super messy as it is, and I wanted to explore people’s responsibilities to the world and each other, in terms of the social class and hierachy of World War One, and relationships between poorer and wealthier people.
Justine: My books kind of just grow. I don’t have an outline, they happen. My books are about appearance vs. true personality, and about how people are raised, with the grandmother/granddaughter relationship explored in one of my books. It’s about generational difference.
Joy: Do you toy with realism?
Justine: Yeah, in Liar.
Scott: In So Yesterday, but I found it difficult.
Isobelle: My partner gave me a story for Metro Winds as a birthday gift. He found a miniture circus, and I was so jealous that I wasn’t… only he would find that kind of thing. I used that in one of my short stories in Metro Winds [InkAshlings: The Dove Game]
Well- fantasy comes out of reality- it always leads back to us personally. Speculative fiction isn’t fact, but it IS truth, and they are two different things.
[InkAshlings: Such an interesting point raised by Isobelle here. I had an argument with my history lecturer once about history as a form of story telling which tells the same sort of ‘truth’ as a fiction writer, based off the fact/truth difference. Essentially, don’t historians and authors do the same thing, in revealing truths about the human experience, but using different tools? I would have liked to have heard more on this from the panel]
Scott: In the Ugly Series, eveyone turns beautiful at 16. That story came from a friend who lived in LA after New York, and emailed us about a trip to the dentist. The dentist asked him in all seriousness about a 5 year dental plan, with appearance the emphasis, not health. What if everything was about appearance? was my central question for that series, but that came out of realism, out of reality.
Justine: I’ve used biographical stuff in my stories too, facts from my childhood. I used to live near an Aboriginal settlement, and that has crept into my writing. You can’t write out of nothing. That’s the fun aspect of being a writer. It’s a constant surprise.
Isobelle: You can also get revenge. I got revenge on a teacher I hated in school, I was so scared of him. I used his name, and described him as bald and ugly, and then one day I actually bumped into him! I tried to avoid him, but he came over and told me how proud everyone was of me!!! He even mentioned how happy he was that I’d used his name, even if the character wasn’t like him at all!!!
Joy: Is that the teacher in The Gathering?
Isobelle: Yes. The Gathering.
Justine: I hated a girl from school, and wrote her into my book.
Joy: Can you tell us a bit about your individual writing process?
Isobelle: Scott sounds organised- you know, perfect histories, languages, maps, charts. Are you?
Scott: Yeah- well… kind of…
Isobelle: I didn’t even have a map for Obernewtyn. The publishers told me I needed one and I had to go back and figure one out. Anyone in the audience who has read Obernewtyn will know how sketchy that map is.
I’m chaos, I don’t take notes, in my mind it’s fluid. Writing it down in plans ruins that fluid creativity. Sucking the world up is natural, and I do that. It’s like fly paper, you suck things up and it sticks in your brain till you need it.
Scott: The little details had to be correct for a World War One steampunk setting. I did loads of research. In writing, you find out what you don’t know. Like zippers? When were they invented? Wikipedia tells you that, but not when zippers were filtered down to Scottish orphans, did orphans wear zippers in WW1? and I needed to know that. Wikipedia didn’t tell me that.
Research can give narrative. I went on a zeppelin ride as research in Germany, and I found out important minor details, like how balanced the craft has to be, and how carefully people have to move on and off a zeppelin. I needed to know that for Leviathan.
Justine: [InkAshlings: Justine talked about the difficulty of working with another author but I didn’t catch all of this or get it down] Sarah plans everything, she knows the entire plot of novel’s she hasn’t even written yet. It’s mind blowing, and I can’t work like that.
Isobelle: Yeah… but has she written these books yet?
Justine: No… but she has used this method to publish books before.
[Isobelle looked pretty incredulous here. It was quite funny.]
Justine: We had to use a rough outline to compromise. We set ourselves a challenge. I wrote a chapter, and then Sarah discussed it with me, and reworked it, and then we switched and did the same thing forwards and backwards for every chapter. We even kept a catalogue of how many times we laughed reading each others chapters [InkAshlings: Sarah and Justine wrote the paranormal romance comedy, Team Human, together]
Isobelle: [Pulling all kinds of faces] That would kill me. That would absolutely unravel me as a writer.
Justine: Yeah, but it wasn’t my book. It was unique. I’m not sure I would ever do it again. Liar was carefully structured after I wrote the entire manuscript. I used a new program, I hate word… if I ever met Bill Gates… I’m joking. Anyway, I used scriptnet, because I wrote small sections at a time, and replaced sections. I could move index cards around on the computer using scriptnet.
Isobelle: I typed my first book on a type writer. You’re young. I hand write with an ink pen and paper. [to the audience] who here does that still?
[Joy asked for a show of hands on who used scriptnet, word, and wrote by hand from the audience here]
Isobelle: This is really showing my age [upon the lack of handwriting hands in the air]. Actually, I have this funny story. I met a young fan once, and he actually asked me, when was the world black and white? He actually thought the world was literally black and white in the olden days.
[Lots of audience laughter]
Joy: Have you ever created a fantasy world that failed? And what did you do about that?
Justine: I got fired on a ghost writing job once- too many cooks. There was the publisher, the packaging house, the author, the ghost writer, and then me. There were too many contradictary instructions. The world building rules got hopelessly confused.
Scott: I’ve had bad ideas- For example in The Extra’s, I wanted to write from a male perspective, and the book was due in a month. I realised that the male protagonist’s sister was experiencing the entire story, so I asked my editor if I should rewrite the story from her POV. I had to rewrite the world from her perspective in a month because I was seeing my world from the wrong place.
Isobelle: Perfect people are boring in stories. You need them to have flaws.
Joy: You’ve all written about vampires. What makes yours stand out?
Justine: I’ve read loads on vampires- I love and hate them. Dead people walking around freaks me out, it would be so cold, and creepy and horrible, touching a vampire isn’t sexy. The romance aspect repels and compels me. I mean, wouldn’t the vampire smell? They’re dead!
We [Sarah and Justine] wanted to explore the real cost of becoming a vampire, of losing your humanity. In this book [Team Human], vampires can’t laugh or cry.
Scott: I used research on cats. My take was the idea of cats/rats/bats as familiars, but also as carriers of vampirism in Peeps. It spreads to us, to cat lovers, that way. Vampires were parasites. It was the case of a cool book of science becoming an accessable story.
Isobelle: I hate horror. When I was 14, I was so scared of vampires. I used to wrap a towel around my neck, so that the vampire couldn’t bite me, and I shared a bed with my sister, so I used to push her to the outside, so the vampire would get her first. I’d pull the covers right up. There was no way that vampire was getting me!
I’m not a fan of horror, so I didn’t plan to write it. I got inspired by a sentence from an old battered guide book I found on Santorini. “Bringing vampires to Santorini is the same as bringing coal to Newcastle.” I wrote a vampire short story inspired by that, and by the island setting. [Story in Metro Winds, called, The Stranger- IA] When I sent the story to my editor, it was really strange, because they got another story from a British author inspired by the exact same quote!
Well- the thing I do like about vampires is immortality. I like that idea. I like the idea of being around to see things happen. I don’t like the idea of everyone going on without me, without having any kind of impact [InkAshlings: Ha Isobelle! You have your own massive wikipedia page and published books. Stop worrying on this front] So yeah- I wrote a horror short story… but I don’t think I’d be likely to write in that genre again.
Three questions were solicited from the audience now, and I was first up.
InkAshlings: Do you think that because fantasy is removed in setting from reality, it allows you to talk with more ease about difficult issues in society, that maybe people wouldn’t normally want to talk about, or wouldn’t feel comfortable dealing with, in a realist novel?
Justine: Yes. I mean, especially in America, where there is a small, but very vocal book banning minority. I know so many people who wouldn’t have been banned if they had been writing in the speculative fiction genre. It’s less confronting maybe? Sad but true. I know someone who was banned for depicting a very G rated lesbian relationship. I guarantee if that had been fantasy, it would have been ok.
[InkAshlings: I didn’t actually intend the question to go down the censorship route but it was interesting anyway. I was more asking about the way that imagination allows for uncomfortable truths to be aired in ways that challenge a reader, in a way that maybe can’t happen in realist novels.]
The second audience question was directed at Isobelle, and asked about her series Little Fur, and its relation to fairy story traditions.
Isobelle: I wrote the Little Fur series after a big flood in Prague, and there were things everywhere, all the debris, and cracks in the pavement. I was walking with my daughter, and she asked me what was in the cracks, so I told her trolls, and she asked, ‘what kind?’ so I said, ‘big, scary trolls.’ It went from there.
Metro Winds is realist, but I use the ornate language of fairy stories to tell these realist stories.
Justine: Fairy stories are a huge influence on fantasy authors. Myths and legends, and fairy stories…
Isobelle: They use rich symbols that are repeated over and over again. When I asked (with Nan McNab) various authors to contribute fairy stories to our Tales from the Tower compilation [InkAshlings: The Wilful Eye, and The Wild Wood] they all said yes, without even asking about money and stuff. It’s just… they… fairy stories tap into something that resonates with the human psyche.
Joy: Any questions for Scott?
Audience Question: Where do you go visually for world building ideas and perceptions? How do you visualise a world?
Scott: I really learnt about the value of illustrations and designs. The collaborative value of working with artists really means… the story happens with those extra dimensions.
Thanks to all three authors, and to Joy, for such a great event! If you want to support Australian fantasy, and you liked what these authors discussed, why not check out their websites, and grab a book?
On the 24th of April, I attended a Panel on Writing at the University of Wollongong. I got permission afterwards to blog what was discussed for the benefit of my readers. Hopefully everyone gets something out of this! The panel was led by Prof. Ivor…