The Year’s Best Kickstarter

So I’m involved in doing this kickstarter thing, where myself, and Liz Grzyb, and Talie Helene, are seeking to raise at least $2,500 to publish the 6th volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror.

I could say a bunch of stuff here, and probably will in a later post. Until then, if you have a moment, check it out:

Sydney, launches, music, Iain Banks

“Cold and final, the imagination shuts down its fabled summer house…”

– Sylvia Plath

I’m writing somewhere between Sydney and Perth, and trying to make some sense from the a crazy 36-or so hours. Inflight entertainment by Florence and the Machine’s Lungs is nicely covering the sound emanating from the lungs of the baby in the seat in front of me, even though he/she/it is giving it a good go at screaming the plane down.

I’ve just finished reading Iain Banks final novel, The Quarry, and there’s a tear in my eye. Partly from the book, partly from the thought that this is it, there are no more words to come from Mr Banks. For the last 21 years his work has been a constant presence, a regular entertainment.

Way early yesterday morning I dragged myself out of bed, fed the cats, showered, fed the cats, and dragged myself onto a plane bound for Sydney. Started reading The Quarry, a bit slow starting, but solidly character-driven.

A highlight of the flight was listening to Ruby, by Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter. Awesome album, a bit jazz-inspired, powerful songs, great voices. I will be seeking out a copy when I get a moment. Ruby, you are missed.

Arrived, paid a taxi driver a decent chunk of cash to sit in lunchtime traffic, and checked into the weird hotel. Weird angles, the stairwells created a visual illusion of being ramped, and the lift was not rectangular. The weird hotel that held an extra $100 on my card in case of expenses, though the only thing in the room was $24 worth of water. Weird.

Made a couple of calls to see everything was going smoothly in preparation for the book launch. The excuse for the trip is, afterall, launching Patty Jansen’s wonderful science fiction thriller Ambassador at Galaxy Books (as well as topping up my frequent flyer status points to retain Gold, and to hang out with a bunch of favourite Sydney-siders). Bookshop casually asks if I was sending any paperbacks to the launch, and no, they haven’t arrived. I flagged this with the printer the day before and because of the flight eating my morning, hadn’t had a chance to follow up. Bookshop also lets me know that the address labels the printers use aren’t displaying all the right information. I vaguely recalled a similar situation a couple of years ago, and had naively assumed from the shit that hit the fan then things would be fixed. They weren’t.

Follow up with printer, it takes some work but manage to persuade them that they should follow up with couriers. By this stage the folks I’d planned to meet up with, Cat Sparks and Rivqa Rafael, are in the room and there’s nothing else that can be done. So we head to a nearby pub so I can eat lunch. Printer calls, courier has books at depot but won’t deliver them to the bookshop today. I’m welcome to go and pick them up. After working out that there isn’t really time for me to go out to their depot and get back, start ringing couriers to find someone to do a rush job. I’m on hold on my phone, Cat is on hold on hers. Cat eventually gets through and we’re told someone can do it and have books there by 6pm. Rivqa has found a convenient bottle shop so I can get some booze for the launch.

Get to launch on time, meet and greet and look around for books. Not yet. Get call from courier, books will be there close to 7pm. It’s a small crowd who don’t mind waiting, so we eat chocolate and drink sparkling wine. I walk up and down stairs a lot looking out for courier. Shop closes at 7pm, but there’s still a guy downstairs doing stuff so we can let the courier in when he arrives at 7.20.

We launch, I’m in rock n roll mode probably from the nature of the trip and having walked past Red Eye Records on my way to the shop. And I’m wearing a Beatles shirt. I pay my respects to the Kadigal people of the Eora Nation. I talk about how we’re at something like the first Sex Pistols show in Manchester, where there’s a dozen in the crowd but years later hundreds will say they were there. I mean it, too, I love the book we’re launching and I’m not going to give a half-arse speech even if there’s a small crowd. I talk about the book, the incredible way it draws the reader into a truly wonderful alien world. I hope I’m not too boring and the crowd certainly aren’t looking too bored. Handover to Zena Shapter to launch the book and say many wonderful things about it. She also says Matt Damon a lot. Then Patty talks and reads, and the crowd are lapping it up. We sign and sell, and keep Alison the wonderful book chick up way past her bedtime but she puts up with us. Then we pretty much all head off to dinner, down weird secret alleys to a little Malay place that does a great job of delivering a street food atmosphere. I’m convinced it’s good when I walk in and see they serve whole fish on the bone. We order a wonderful variety of dishes, I go for butter prawns and coconut rice. Butter prawns aren’t butter chicken but prawns battered light and crunchy and seasoned with chilli and other yummy spices.

We all say goodnight and I drag myself back to the hotel, promising to be an early riser and catch up with Patty in the morning. And I am up early, at least on Perth time. My alarm clock was writing cheques that neither my body nor mind wished to cash. My plan of getting up and having a slow relaxing breakfast, maybe a little stroll, before checking out and meeting Patty didn’t happen. But we did meet, and had a yummy bacon and spinach scrambled eggs while plotting world domination, so all was good. I’ve also got a bit of a crick in my neck/shoulderblades, probably a mix of stress and unusual bed/pillows.

Next stop was back to the aforementioned Red Eye Records, where I found a haul of CDs I had been looking a long time for. Kirsty MacColl’s first album finally on CD, not sure why I didn’t see this in London a few weeks ago but getting this at last was worth the trip. Tiddas Inside My Kitchen EP, another on my wish list. Two CDs by Severed Heads, Shattered (featuring “Dead Eyes Open” and a 2 cd collection (also featuring “Dead Eyes Open”). A box set of the first 5 Ramones albums. The complete recordings by The Eastern Dark. A live record by Husker Du. Christine Anu’s first album. Volume 2 of the Australian Underground series (covering 1978-1990, also featuring “Dead Eyes Open” – that’s 3 if you’re keeping score at home). And Bitch Epic by Deborah Conway. A bunch of glaring gaps can be considered plugged.

I could have spent a bucket more at Red Eye, on Died Pretty rarities, Archie Roach, The Hard-Ons, Tall Tales and True, Husker Du (my collection is woefully lacking), Texas, a size 4 The Pixies kid’s t-shirt, Snog (that Throssell chap must put out an album every month), Coldplay (not really, just checking to see if anyone was still reading),

Unfortunately they didn’t have Ruby (see above), but overall I was a kid in a candy store.

It seems that indie music is associated with kindness and wanting to change the world, as my Red Eye shopping bag seemed to attract every charity collector: the Wilderness Society, RSPCA, Wesley Mission.

Then it was the airport train, cheaper than a taxi by a long way but a bit of a stroll to get to the platform – does anyone like Central Station? Then the sanctuary of the Virgin Lounge, with the very helpful Ian arranging me onto an earlier flight, and I even scored an empty seat next to me.

The screaming baby in the seat in front can go from full-on Jimmy Barnes to cutely smiling in the blink of an eye – possibly an evolutionary survival mechanism kicking in.

Listening to The Jezabels’ Prisoner, I like it but not sure I love it. Might need multiple listens, great vocals but the songs are a little formulaic, at least that’s my impression half a dozen tracks in. I’m getting fussy in my old age, while they’ve obviously got their sound going on this album, I expect two sounds on an album these days, at least a bit of a mix of pace or feel or something. It’s why I like Lungs better than Ceremonials, and spent some time discussing this last night over dinner. “Rosebud” seems to be coming from a slightly different place, but that place is Pat Benatar. I think what’s bugging me is the distant rhythm guitar sound that blends with keyboards, it’s like there’s a sound gap between the vocals and the guitars that the bass and drums aren’t filling. Kind of like Simple Minds around Once Upon A Time but without a thumping stadium-grade bass-line/rhythm section to fill the songs out. I think these songs would be great live.

An attempt at clarity

(or why I don’t want to join any writer associations)

I’m not a writer. I like to think that I’m a bit of a jack of all trades (or dilettante, if you don’t mind) when it comes to literary things — publisher, editor, graphic designer, critic, bookseller — but knowing what writers do and what it takes to do it, I’m not one of them.

So, not only do I not qualify for most writer associations, I’m not aiming to qualify, and to therefore join would make me an imposter, at least in my own mind.

And sure, some associations do let editors in, too, and I wear that hat, but …

I’m a publisher. I wear that hat. And while writers and publishers aren’t natural enemies, there will come occasions where they naturally find themselves on opposite sides of the table. That’s just how the game works.

And when that happens, no writer association should be on my side. That ain’t what they are there for. And I think writers need to know that, they need to know that their association is behind them 100%, not trying to straddle the fence between two members.

I believe in supporting writers, advocating for them and their work, making sure they get the best deal possible and most importantly getting paid. I hope my actions over time have demonstrated this.

The Girl With No Hands and other tales by Angela Slatter

Ask anyone: I don’t play favourites among the Ticonderoga books. They are all my children (and Liz Grzyb’s too!) and I love them all equally.

But tonight I love Angela Slatter’s collection The Girl With No Hands and other tales the most, just by a little.

Not for the 16 incredible tales it contains. Not because it was our first ever Publishers Weekly review (and a mighty positive one it was, too). Not for the pleasure of working with Angela Slatter. Not for the incredible design work from Lisa L. Hannett on the cover. Not for the Aurealis Award it won. Not for the great story of rejecting “The February Dragon” I’ve walked away with.

For the memories that came flooding back tonight.

I first started formatting the ebook version in May 2011. I was part way through this procrastination when I got the call that my mother was fading. Whatever was going through my stupid head at the time, I thought I’d be able to work on the ebook while sitting by my mother’s bedside (if you’ve ever had a loved one go through several years of cancer I’m guessing you’ve spent a lot of time bedside too).

I ended up reading parts of the book to mum one day. It was just the two of us, and mum was passed the stage of being able to talk, but she could still hear. So I read to her, “The Bone Mother” and “The Girl With No Hands” (I also read Jane Routley’s “Bats” from Dead Red Heart).

Tonight, reformatting The Girl With No Hands and other tales for additional ebooking, flicking through the stories, it all came flooding back. Sitting there, reading to mum, just like she would have read to me when I was young.

It’s an incredible book, a powerful book, and a book that for more ways than one I will carry inside me for the rest of my life.

Ongoing discussion

I was in two minds about whether to speak up and say something, but hearing this morning of another incident where a migrant was subject to a racist tirade has helped make up my mind.

I have to speak up.

I’ve read a lot of brouhaha recently regarding a column by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg in the SFWA Bulletin. I’m not specifically going to comment on exactly what they said: I’m not an SFWA member, nor eligible to be one, nor aspire to be one, so I’m not going to tell a private membership organisation what they can and can’t put into a journal I don’t have a legitimate desire to access.

I’ve read some of the online discussion of this article.

One, by Foz Meadows, irked me a little when Foz said,

“two old white guys in their seventies who I’ve never heard of before”

and I think this cuts to the heart of one of the issues.

I’ve read all of this stuff, but what I haven’t read is anyone trying to have a reasoned, mutually-respecting conversation with Resnick and Malzberg about why they do not agree with the sentiments they viewed.

I have seen a response that I believe would make a large amount of people defensive if it was directed at them, and in light of this I can understand the very defensive, circling the wagons tone of the second SFWA piece.

So while those challenging Resnick and Malzberg may have a valid argument, I feel that the messages being conveyed aren’t the most conducive for mutually respectful dialogue on the issue.

Respect.

While I doubt that I agree with everything that Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg say and believe, I respect their contribution to SF, the genre I love. I respect their work, I must have first read their stories over 20 years ago. I respect their achievements.

Respect.

ADDITION: All comments welcome, however house rules are that every commenter should be willing to put their name to what they say.

Disclaimer: Barry N. Malzberg wrote the introduction to Invisible Kingdoms at the request of the late Steven Utley. Mike Resnick will be writing the introduction to the forthcoming Bittersuite collection at the  request of author Lezli Robyn. Both titles published by Ticonderoga Publications.

Discussion: Australian conventions/memberships/interstate stuff

I had a thought today. (Folks who know me will be familiar with my occasional crazy ideas…)

The Preamble

I’ve been thinking about convention membership prices for a while, pretty much every time I need to pay one, or hear about someone struggling to pay one.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the organising end of a convention, but I know they are expensive things to run. Hotel venues are usually in the vicinity of exorbitant, and I’d assume that the bulk of the membership fees go to covering this expense. And it isn’t a discretionary line-item, in that the con needs a venue.

I also know that in general cons don’t aim to run at a significant profit/surplus; while they may be able to put aside a few bucks at the end to pass on to the next con, this is often achieved through sponsorships or more people than expected attending.

So back to my idea. Right now we have possibly (on paper) the healthiest convention calendar Australia has seen for at least 22 years (which is as long as I’ve been attending). We have three guaranteed annual conventions: Swancon (Perth), Conflux (Canberra), and Continuum (Melbourne); as well as occasional natcons in other cities (and in recent times the 2-yearly NSW Writers Centre SF Festival, a slightly different beast, I’m also excluding the Sydney FreeCons from this as, I understand, there is no membership fee required to attend).

All of these makes for a lot of expensive travel in order to attend as many as possible. A conservative $1000-2000 ($700 airfare, $1000 hotel + food, $300 membership) in rough figures to attend a con not in your home state. These are rough figures, and while savings may be able to be made through room sharing, it’s still a sizeable chunk o’ filthy lucre. Possibly enough to discourage interstate attendance.

At the same time, I really believe that the best and strongest conventions come from having as many attendees from all over Australia. I think this helps out with programming, and the overall vibe of the show. I think that whatever can bring as many people together to these events is best for the community.

The idea

So, as the idea goes, would a convention gain from offering an interstate discounted membership; say $100 at the door?

It’s just an idea, I don’t know how it would work in practice. I’d start by looking to exclude NatCons from this suggestion, as I think the nature of those events encourage interstate participation and attendance. So I’m only looking at non-NatCons. So would like to throw some questions out there for discussion.

The questions

1. Would such a discounted membership encourage interstate visitors to attend?

2. What is the rough current proportion of local to interstate attendees: would such a discount be taking money out of the convention?

3. Would there be local resistance to “foreigners” getting a cheaper rate?

4. Are there other/more effective ways to promote and encourage interstate attendees?

Your thoughts?

Steven Utley 1948-2013

I woke up this morning to news I wasn’t hoping to hear for many years. Steven Utley, writer, reader, and friend, had passed away.

He’d emailed a bunch of folks just after Christmas, letting us know his diagnosis. He sounded himself, positive, and I really believed that he’d beat this. Even when he mentioned the brain lesion, the loss of fine motor skills, his tone talking about treatment gave me all the false hope I needed to hear.

I sent Steven a couple of emails over the course of the last fortnight, being generally supportive.

I didn’t pick up the phone and call. I wish I’d picked up the phone and called him.

My first communication with Steven Utley was over the phone. It was 1996 or 1997, back when I was living on “Young One’s Central”, and Steven had just moved to Tennessee. I was hanging around with the wrong crowd (Jonathan, Jeremy and Richard from Eidolon), doing the wrong things (reading stories by Howard Waldrop), and the idea of starting a small press fell into my head. I’d scored Utley’s number from the manuscript for the intro to Custer’s Last Jump, and after performing numerous timezone calculations (this was way before mobile apps or google) I plucked up the courage to call him.

I was a 23-year-old punk rock loving kid back then, full of wild enthusiasm and a lack of a solid clue, but I tried to sound mature and professional on the phone. I don’t recall being shit-scared (my little secret: whenever I approach a writer or editor about a new project, I am shit-scared) but I probably was; also worried about how much the call was going to cost, as international phonecalls were really really expensive in those days.

As it turned out, Steven had just had a collection deal fall through, so he was happy to talk and sent me a list of stories. Jonathan Strahan gave me a copy of the SFWA standard contract, I filled in the gaps (I doubt I knew enough to know what the rest of it meant) and sent it off. Steven signed it, and the rest is history.

That last section skips over something big. Why did I approach Utley to publish a collection of his work? Having read and loved “Custer’s Last Jump”, I began wondering who this Steven Utley guy was (I knew who Howard Waldrop was). I hit the shelves of Murdoch library, found a published bibliography, photocopied it and then set about reading everything I could that was listed. I photocopied every story of his they had among the shelves: from Asimov’s, F&SF, Galaxy, a bunch of others — if you find an issue on the shelves that falls open to an Utley story, it’s probably my fault.

I read all those stories on the bus back to Young One’s Central, I made multiple trips to make sure I had all I could. Those stories were amazing, full of ideas but much more importantly, full of humanity. I was only beginning to understand the difference between plot- and character-driven fiction, and Utley filled my head full of incredible characters. He could paint a person, or a trait of humanity, in a short story, telling you all you need to know in a few lines of dialogue; from the spaceship captain in “Upstart”, looking the titanic alien in the eye and asking ‘Who wants to know?’; to the marine in “Dog in a Manger”, destroying all of humanity’s treasures, ‘We couldn’t let them have it.’; to the doctor fighting cholera in “Haiti”, “Fuck men on Mars.”

There were so many characters, from Devonian explorers, to the mysterious country doctor, to women finding independence; always normal people, though sometimes in extraordinary situations. I really believe that Steven loved all of his characters, even the ones he didn’t agree with, and each of his stories were filled with the right people for the job. His disagreeable types were still characters, not stereotypes or pastiches.

Reading those stories at the time, I came to the conclusion that Steven Utley was the best damn short story writer on the planet. I may have been 23 and I have no idea what crap my head was full of back then, but I’m damn sure that kid was right about one thing.

Except Steven Utley isn’t on the planet anymore, at least not in the right way. I’m an atheist, but at times like these turn to thermodynamics for solace, so that Utley’s constituent atoms will always be with us.

We also have his stories, tales of love, hope, humanity, and they will live for a long time still.

These words aren’t really enough, but I’m sure that in coming days and weeks others far more eloquent than me, who knew Steven closer and longer, will share their stories.

The next big thing – MIDNIGHT & MOONSHINE

Long, long ago, in pretty much this galaxy right here, a guy called Paul Magrs started this viral author promotional idea. The idea was to start with, say, five writers, and send them a set of interview questions asking about their latest writing project, whether they’re published, or still struggling (or, of course, published and struggling).

Thanks to the wonderful (though slightly misguided) Adrian Bedford, I present my deluded ramblings.

What is the working title of your next book?

That’s tricky, being a publisher I’ve got a number of next books. The next book we’ll start shipping is MIDNIGHT & MOONSHINE, by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter. The next book in the list to publish is INVISIBLE KINGDOMS by Steven Utley, in February 2013. And the forthcoming book that I’m focussing most attention on at this very moment is Juliet Marillier’s PRICKLE MOON, publication April 2013.

Given this is about “the next big thing”, I should talk about MIDNIGHT & MOONSHINE, as Hannett and Slatter fit that best. Juliet Mariller has been bigger than the next big thing for over a decade; while Utley has been writing the most underrated short stories for 40 years.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came via email from Angela Slatter, that went something along the lines of, “Lisa and I are going to write a collection of linked stories about Norse Gods, fairies, and shoes, and it’s going to be awesome, and you’re gonna publish it, and pay us lots of shoe-money.  And here’s a story about fairies and shoes that we prepared earlier.”

Given I think fairies are crap and am blissfully ignorant in the ways of women’s shoes, I agreed straight away. It also helped that I knew Angela and Lisa were totally shit-hot writers who could make anything work.

What genre does your book fall under?

Dark fantasy, or fantasy with horror elements, or horror with fantastical elements. I’m not good at putting books into genres.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is tricky, given the stories span over a thousand years, with characters coming and going. I’d like to see Angelica Houston in it somewhere, and if Dame Margaret Smith could play an ageing Southern belle there’s a role just right for her.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

From fire giants to whispering halls, disappearing children to evening-wolves, fairy hills to bewitched cypress trees, and talking heads to moonshiners of a special sort, MIDNIGHT & MOONSHINE takes readers on a journey from ninth century Vinland to America’s Deep South in the present day.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Published by Ticonderoga Publications.

How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?

The contract was signed December 2010, and the manuscript was delivered around August this year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It would be tempting and lazy to compare MIDNIGHT & MOONSHINE with Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS, but while there are thematic similarities, really the two are very different. Hannett and Slatter are very different writers indeed.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have absolutely no idea. What inspired me to buy it was the fiercely fabulous body of work Hannett and Slatter have produced, and the confidence that they’d deliver something that would be uniquely brilliant.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s fantastic cover art by Kathleen Jennings, a wonderful introduction by Kim Wilkins, and a limited hardcover edition signed by all contributors. We’re launching it in Brisbane at Avid Reader bookshop on 30 November, with a second launch at the South Australian Writers Centre in Adelaide on 14 December. MIDNIGHT & MOONSHINE received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and you can order this awesome book from http://www.indiebooksonline.com

Now, who to tag next?

Definitely Juliet Marillier and Steven Utley, as I short-changed them right at the start of this. Kim Wilkins, Amanda Pillar, and Greg Mellor (I’d also tag my beautiful fiancé Liz Grzyb if she didn’t keep telling me how busy she is at this time of year).