Monthly Archives: February 2013

The first novel, in the flesh :)

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This is going to be a very short post, mostly because I’m in the grips of moving back to my home city, which necessitates driving all over the place, from real estate offices to banks, and outlaying more cash than any sane person would be comfortable with.

BUT! Amidst all this, I got an exciting package: the first copy of my debut novel, Ryders Ridge, in the papery flesh. It looks good. It smells good. It’s difficult to describe how I feel looking at it. Of the story, I am very proud. But seeing it in its final physical form is still amazing. I can remember very distinctly, in 2007 when I’d just decided to take writing seriously, wandering (as I often did) into my local Dymocks in Indooropilly and looking round at all the books on the shelves. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool, I thought. Amazing to think that in just a few weeks, my first book will be on the shelves. 🙂

In other exciting news, Kim Wilkins will launch Ryders Ridge on 9 April at Avid Reader in West End. Tickets are free, but booking required for numbers. Click here if you’d like to come!

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On Michael Crichton

I’ve been a Michael Crichton fan for more than twenty years, ever since I got my hands on Jurassic Park in high school. And no matter what I’ve been doing since that time, he keeps cropping up in my attention. I’ve read, with one or two exceptions, every book he wrote. I loved almost every one. I remember where I was when I heard he’d died in 2008. I’ve heard many disparaging things said about him – that his work isn’t serious, that it’s ‘airport fiction’ – I’d dispute them all, but I really don’t care about that now. I loved his stuff, and I want to talk about is two particular places that he influenced my life, and what they meant.

jurassic-parkWhen I was a first-year med student, one of my (probably well-meaning) consultants had a go at Michael Crichton out of the blue one day. I don’t remember what prompted it … something about usefulness of professions. The consultant was indignant that someone who graduated medicine and hadn’t stuck with it. More or less, consultant said, “I mean, he’s not helping anyone.”

At the time, I mumbled the usual non-committal assent of the lowly student. But afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe it. The consultant didn’t know how many times I’d read MC’s stories, and other favourite authors’. The enjoyment I’ve had from them, the comfort, and the insight. The consultant may have felt medicine’s way of ‘helping’ is the only, or perhaps the most noble, one, but it isn’t true. Good stories help. They enrich, inspire and prompt discussion. Writing matters. And what this one person wrote is still with me long after his death, and will continue to be so. I wish I could go back to that moment, be braver, and say so. Fortunately, I don’t have to.

Years later, when I too decided not to pursue clinical medicine, I would often hear in my head people like that consultant who looked down on me for my choice. And I was comforted because I knew others, like Crichton, had done the exact same thing before me. When I finally got around to reading his early-career memoir, Travels, I found the med school experience he described eerily similar to my own, even though our medical education was 30 years apart. And it was interesting to me that all his bios imply he’d completed his internship before leaving the profession. Travels made it clear this wasn’t the case, just like me. Another comfort.

Fast forward many years to this week, and I’m in the post-completion of a manuscript turmoil. I know it needs lots of work. Lots of work. And out of the blue, my friend Bek sent me this:

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”crichtonbooks

And who said it? Michael Crichton. And from a writer I’ve admired so much, this was like a removalist that packed away my apprehensions. Yes, it needs work. A lot of work. And it can be done.

Next week, fingers crossed, I’ll be unpacking my long-boxed books in a new apartment. And I’ll be running my fingers over the stained, dog-eared and much-loved pages of Crichton’s books, and thinking about what a profound influence someone I never met had on me, and how special that is. The magic of stories. My friend KimWilkins describes it as an ordinary magic (which is lovely). Just the kind we often need.

Publishing short stories – truths from a serial submitter

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a nerd to the core of my soul, and one of the particular manifestations of that is my love of spreadsheets, graphs and numbers generally.

One of the upsides to this bent is that BAS time is actually fun (I see that look you’re giving me). The other is that I tend to record data on my writing for later analysis and tracking. I’m planning a blog soon using the data I have from the five novel manuscripts I’ve written, but today I wanted to present a few insights about short stories, and more particularly, submitting them to markets.

I’ve been fortunate to have some successes in the short story arena. I consider myself an emerging writer, but I’ve been tracking my short stories since I started trying to have them published. I find it essential – I can’t remember otherwise where they’ve gone, how long ago, and when to re-query. So today I’ve made a preliminary troll through the data and I present three insights that showed themselves.

The spreadsheet gives up her secrets ...

The spreadsheet gives up her secrets …

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[Note: The data below is based on 70 submissions (13 different stories to 39 different markets) over about a 3 year period and only represents my experience.]

1. How long does it take to get a response?

Average time for my submissions is just over 6 weeks, but I tend to favour fast-responding markets and I try to match my submissions so I’m not wasting time sending things that market would never go for anyway. Anthologies and competitions take longer, because their reading periods are often months and I tend to submit early. If I remove the anthology and comp submissions, the average response time has been 4.5 weeks. The fastest responding markets (with average times) for me have been: (the aptly named) Lightspeed (3 days), Clarkesworld (5 days), Shimmer (6 days). A few markets have never responded. I have ignored these in my analysis as two have folded since.

2. What’s the success rate?

After 70 submissions, I have 7 stories actually published (or in press). That’s 10% success rate. I have no idea if that’s good or not – I think perhaps it’s not too bad … it’s better than the acceptance rate for some academic journals. The fewest submissions before acceptance was 1 (one story was picked up by the first market I submitted it to). The most is currently on its 14th submission – it may yet have many more. The average is 5 subs per story; 4 if only counting those published.

3. How much is it worth?

There’s two ways of looking at this. The first is: depressingly little. Only 3 of my 7 published stories earned me actual money, and the total is just a shade over $200. When you look at the number of hours invested, that’s really a negligible return. I’m early career though … it’s possible there may be more money in it in the future, but I suspect not that much more. I can remember a well-known sci-fi author at the last AussieCon saying that, during the sci-fi zine hey-day in the 60s and 70s, he could write two stories in a day and sell them both, which earned a fairly tidy income. I suspect those days are long over, even if I could write two stories a day.

The other way of looking at it is investment. Time in craft, time in exposure, not to mention returning an awful lot of pride. I’ve had a few lovely comments come from readers, which was worth every revision-riddled minute. And one submission eventually published was solicited, which was immensely satisfying. Plus … there seems to be some kind of snowball effect happening – 5 of the 7 pubs have been in the last year.

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No-one would do this for the money, but then I suspect no one does. I’ve heard so many times from more experienced writers that “talent is cheap; persistence is rare”. Good advice. If you have any questions about short story markets, feel free to comment them up – I’m not the most experienced in the game, but willing to wield the spreadsheet’s power to shed some light 🙂

Do you spoon your cuppa?

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Warning: this image contains disturbing words

This blog is a confession of sorts. I happened to read a post recently about beautiful sounding words in the English language. Opinions are naturally divided, but there was a throwaway line at the end about ‘moist’ being nominated as the grossest sounding word. That made me titter – as a panel at last year’s RWA conference certainly agreed (the panel was on language use in sex scenes – among the other offenders were ‘orbs’ to describe breasts, and anything ‘swelling’ – you know what I mean).

But this put me to thinking – not of beautiful words – but the ones I loathe. For whatever reason, two words in English – ‘cuppa’ and ‘spooning’ – have a special ability to set my teeth on edge. The title of this blog actually curls my lip. I have a bodily aversion to either word when I hear them spoken. They are insufferable; like Kevin Bacon and Uma Thurman on screen.

Why? I’ve spent time wondering. For ‘cuppa’ (gah …) I think it’s the mawkish sentimentality it invokes … of doilies and covered teapots and shortbread on plates. I don’t really have anything against those things in practice, but when lassoed and thrust forth by those two syllables, somehow it’s intolerable. And ‘cuppa’ (gah!) is an Australian institution. For ‘spooning’, no idea. The sound displeases me. I have no problem with ‘spoon’. Maybe it’s the connotation. Or it’s too cute. I have problems with cuteness.

This may be a sign of some kind of mental deficiency, who knows. But the aversion is real and produces practical consequences as I attempt to avoid using either word. ManBeast laughs when I insist on using ‘forking’ as a substitute for ‘spooning’. I quite like it, especially the cheeky euphemism, and let’s face it – both cutlery items nest in the same way. But for ‘cuppa’ … I’m coming up short. I complained to ManBeast about this the other day. Here’s a brief re-cap.

Me: There’s no suitable one-word equivalent. It’s driving me nuts. English has so many words you think there’d be one.

MB (in Sheldon voice): Hot beverage?

Me: Too formal. Besides, that’s two words.

MB: Cup of tea?

Me: Okay, but that makes it specific to tea. And it’s three words.

MB: Hmmmm. Yeah, what if you mean coffee or chai? Misleading.

Me: I do like ‘beverage’ though. Maybe I could shorten it.

MB: Shorten it?

Me: Bevvo.

MB: [laughs uncontrollably] That sounds like a bogan saying bevan. Too funny.

Me: [pouts] I don’t care.

So … I’m appealing to readers for suitable alternatives for ‘cuppa’, otherwise I swear I’m using bevvo. Either I need a better word or someone needs to point me towards a literary desensitisation program. I’d also be interested if anyone else has words they can’t stand to hear. Confess all! 🙂

Rebekah Turner

Or…Redbeard tries to convince Rebekah How Cool Sci-Fi is…

Redbeard: Hello, Redbeard here, hijacking Bek’s blog. I’ve had quite a bit of success in life. Wonderful healthy kids… beautiful talented wife… a determined nature to change things around me for the better…where I have continually failed though is to get Bek drawn into the science fiction genre, as opposed to trashy 80s/90s action/horror movies. So here I am today, listing out the best sci-fi has had to offer on TV is recent years and why I think it Bek should watch them.

Rebekah: I’m only sticking around for this lesson because I got a compliment in the first paragraph.

Redbeard: On to our first example. Stargate SG-1. A show of contradictions, I intensely disliked the original movie, these days I find it ‘passable’ for Daniel Jackson if nothing else.

Rebekah: I can’t believe you are dissing Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell is awesome-pants.

Redbeard: SG1 brought…

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Farewell to Auckland

I’ve been living in Auckland (or Orc-land) off-and-on for the last seven months as the ManBeast has been working on a job here. In two weeks, though, my Auckland habitation will be at an end as I head Brisbane-side for the start of the academic semester, and we’ll return to the FIFO arrangement until mid-year.

Suitcase living had become a mainstay over the last four years (firstly because of my job, and then because of the trans-Tasman working separation which began in 2011) and generally I enjoy the wanderyness of it. New places to explore, and air travel is still as exciting to me as it was that first time way back in 1992 en route to Great Keppel Island. This is chiefly because aircraft are powered by turbofan engines (exciting!) and I get heaps of time to write, do marking … or catch up on Downton Abbey. But I digress.

The downside to wandering this way is missing your friends (Skype is not a substitute), and all the great stuff back home, like Brisbane’s riverside running track, and Kraft macaroni cheese. But of course, having been here long enough, there’s now stuff about Auckland and the wider New Zealand that I’m going to leave behind. I won’t miss living next to a pub – that wasn’t a particularly great idea. But in this last few days, I’m trying to forget the endless U2 track tape and reflecting on the best of this chapter instead.

location

Auckland Harbour … boats, trendy bars, and loud Irish pubs.

Firstly, rum racing. Auckland is a harbour city, and we live right on it. Every week, I’ve walked past massive cruise ships docked right near our apartment, and seen the sails fly past. I joined a yacht club (after a conversation in the gym steam room … that’s another story) and on many a Thursday or Friday afternoon, we belted across the bay on the Higher Ground. We won (rum) a couple of times, had one race ended by the NZ Navy. It was all good. I’ll miss being able to get to the harbour in five minutes. It’s a forty minute drive in Brisbane.

Racing ...

Racing …

... and rum!

… and rum!

Secondly, the ZXR. I bought this beasty little 250 without much care (still mourning the loss of my recently sold cruiser), seeing it as a temporary ride. But it had spirit and gusto and with the ManBeast’s ZZR stablemate, it went wherever I asked it, which included some places that knobbly tyres probably would have been a better idea. The wheels allowed me to see so much awesome in the nearby region. I sold it a week ago to a new owner, who I hope will have as much fun with it as I did.

Photobombed by the ZZR by the Firth of Thames

Photobombed by the ZZR by the Firth of Thames – ZXR at left

ManBeast rests with the road beasts after a long dirt track (the wrong one)

ManBeast rests with the road beasts after a long dirt track (the wrong one)

Finally, Piha, and the Bay of Islands, which kind of combine the previous two entries with NZ’s spectacular scenery. Piha is a black sand beach about an hour west. The aptly named Bay of Islands is about four hours north. We saw Piha by bike and the Bay by boat. Spectacular. And despite the fact that I flattened my bike battery at Piha (and was given a jump by one of the Piha Rescue guys) and that I spent a day in the Bay trip shit-scared I’d run our charter into something, both were unforgettable trips. Might be worth a blog of their own. I know Queensland has the Whitsundays, which I love too, but the Bay of Island has penguins, which is just a delicious juxtaposition in a place that looks so tropical.

Piha from the high road ...

Piha from the high road …

... and from the ground

… and from the ground

Oke Bay all to ourselves

Oke Bay all to ourselves

Skipper Char

Skipper Char

That’s it for now. I could keep going… I haven’t mentioned Phillipe’s amazing chocolate and pastry heaven, Mr Vintage, fossilised trees, the Auckland half-marathon, the hilarious coverage of the Hobbit premiere, or a dozen other places visited, but this has been the best. Farewell, Orcland. It’s been great.