CoNZealand – different but same

WorldCon 2020 was hosted in New Zealand amid the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges of pivoting from a real life convention to the first ever virtual World Science Fiction Convention, the organisers managed to deliver a terrific experience. Through the use of Discord and Zoom, the sense of community and fandom was alive and well. Yes, there were some technical hitches and a sharp learning curve for many attendees, but it was still freakin’ fabulous to be able to take part in so many thought-provoking panels and meet so many like-minded folks.

I had the privilege of being a panelist and moderator for these three sessions:

Asian Women of Horror: The Experience of Perpetual “Otherness” Through the Lens of Dark Fiction

Asian women of horror dissect their experiences of “otherness.” Whether in the colour of their skin, the angle of their cheekbones, the things they dare to write, or the places they have made for themselves in the world, how does dark fiction let us explore their very real experience?

Moderator: Geneve Flynn

Panelists: Lee Murray, Prema Arasu, Umiyuri Katsuyama

How to Work with Editors

There are all kinds of editors: those that edit novels, short fiction, journalism, and so forth. We can’t forget acquisitions editors, developmental editors, or the copy editors, of course. How does each kind of editor work with writers? How should you, the writer, best work with them?

Moderator: Joshua Bilmes

Panelists: Liz Gorinsky, Aidan Doyle, Katrina Archer, Geneve Flynn

Horror from Elsewhere

We’re very familiar with US/UK horror…but what about horror from elsewhere.  A look at horror from around the world.

Moderator: Geneve Flynn

Panelists: Ellen Datlow, Kat Clay, Chikodili Emelumadu, Dr. Octavia Cade

It was great to chat with everyone on the panels and I came away with a teetering to-be-read pile.

There were many fascinating topics throughout the five days of programming and I was exhilarated and exhausted by the final day.

Along with the programming at conventions, it’s the moments in between that I love. It’s in those moments where you make unexpected friendships, bump into that creator you’ve always admired, or launch a project with a new connection. Despite the lack of face-to-face contact, CoNZealand delivered all of that and more.

Thanks a million to the organisers, volunteers, and participants who made it all possible. Here’s to next year’s WorldCon.

P.S. Brisbane, Australia has a bid in for WorldCon 2025. I’m ridiculously excited. Have a look here if you’d like to learn more or get involved.

Follow that path: part II

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Stories don’t emerge, pure and utterly original from the mind. Instead, they’re stitched together like Frankenstein’s creature, shaped from found treasures and past experiences. And one of the most profound past experiences for a writer is the stuff they’ve read and fallen in love with.

Two weeks ago, I posted a link to Flame Tree Publishing’s blog about the inspirations behind some of the stories in their latest Gothic anthology, Lost Souls. 

This week, the authors (myself included) were asked to share some of our favourite stories from the genre. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to give a shout out to some fabulous Australian authors, such as Lisa L. Hannett, Rue Karney, Matthew J. Morrison and of course, Deborah Sheldon. Check them out. If you haven’t read much Australian horror, you’re in for a treat.

You can read the latest blog from Flame Tree Publishing here.

Follow that path.

secret-3120483_1920Why do you write the things you do? Where do the ideas come from? These are two of my favourite questions to ask authors. I like to discover the winding path to the page almost as much as I like to read the actual story itself. My short story, ‘The Pontianak’s Doll’ will be published in Lost Souls, a Gothic Fantasy anthology this September. If you’re curious about how some of the stories in this gorgeous collection emerged, head over to Flame Tree Publishing’s blog.

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That new book smell…

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Contributor’s copies are fabulous. It’s a great feeling to hold a physical copy of your story, wrapped in the pages of a beautifully made book. Enter the Rebirth looks good, feels good and has that new book smell. It also happens to contain ‘The Zoo of All Things’, my post-apocalyptic story about a guy with epilepsy surviving his first day at work. Check it out here on Amazon or at TANSTAAFL Press.

Hey, wanna hear something cool?

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My horror short story, ‘The Fledgling’ will feature in the Tales to Terrify podcast on the 18th of May this year. That’s just one week away, so if you like to hear your horror instead of reading it, head over to the site and check it out. You’ll find podcasts of stories by fabulous authors such as Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren and Alan Baxter.

Oh, and Stephen King. Excuse me while I run around in mad circles like a toddler let loose after birthday cake.

‘The Fledgling’ explores a mother’s unease with the private school system. If crows give you the creeps, you might want to close your ears.

If you liked ‘The Fledgling’, have a look at some of my other published short stories.

Happy listening!

 

A New Home for a Lost Soul

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My short story, ‘The Pontianak’s Doll’ will be republished in the Lost Souls Gothic Fantasy short story anthology in September this year. The anthology will be brought out by Flame Tree Publishing and will feature many new writers as well as classic masters of the Gothic tale such as M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Here’s a link to the blog post from Flame Tree Publishing if you’d like to learn more.

Is Your Focus Skewed?

cat-2151400_1920When we read, we tend to try to anticipate what will happen in a story, or project backwards (for example, in a murder mystery novel). We use details such as objects, time and setting to create a picture of where, when, and what is happening. When an author spends time describing something in a manuscript, it’s a clue to the reader to pay attention. These details also help to immerse us in the story. A problem in some manuscripts is when the focus is on the wrong things or details that don’t matter. The reader doesn’t know what’s important and can feel bored or cheated.

One reason for this skewed focus is the author writing their way into the story. I’ve read plenty of scenes describing a character waking up, making tea or coffee, or commuting to work. I tend to think of these scenes as mental stretches before tackling a heavy writing session and they probably reflect more on the daily life of an author than what’s important to a story. That’s not to say that you should cut all description of a character’s day-to-day doings from the manuscript. These can be a great way to provide characterisation and may be part of the plot. Just be aware of repetition, spending too much time on these scenes, or reverting to cliché in how you describe them.

If a writer is passionate about a topic, this can also skew the focus of description. This isn’t always a bad thing. I love learning something new when I read. One of the great joys of fiction is slipping into another person’s shoes and exploring their world. Now imagine that person is a keen lepidopterist and just when you get to a critical point in their story, they stop to show you their collection of pinned butterflies. The main story is shooting past but you have to stop and listen to them talk about their favourite moth. It’s frustrating and slows the pace unnecessarily. If the topic is crucial to the plot, that’s a different thing entirely; if it isn’t, think about cutting back.

A third reason that a story’s focus can be imbalanced is that the manuscript is in its early development. The first draft is often the writer telling themselves the story, getting the images and ideas in their head down on to the page. It’s in the subsequent revisions that the author can then go back over the manuscript and expand scenes and flesh things out. The first couple of chapters are usually the most heavily revised. Authors know that first chapters are crucial for hooking a reader or a publisher and will spend time polishing the start of a manuscript until it’s shiny and bright.

In the rest of the story, particularly heading into the climax where the pace is breakneck, things can tend to get summarised. While short, sharp sentences and chapters are great for reflecting the rising tension, what you don’t want to do is leave the reader feeling short changed. They’ve followed you for the past two hundred pages. Make sure the climax you’ve promised is satisfying by giving it enough attention and space on the page.

The final reason for a skewed focus is not trusting the reader to do their job. A common problem with many manuscripts is overwriting. The author can feel the urge to explain what is happening because they don’t trust that the reader will ‘get it’. This can lead to repetition, telling and too much description.

To make sure you’re getting the balance of focus right in your manuscript, read great fiction. Examine how the author has guided the reader’s attention. Look at the balance of description and action. Read bad fiction. Take note of when you drop out of a story or feel frustrated with the narrative. What made you stop reading? Were you bored? Did you feel cheated?

Enlist the aid of a couple of trusted beta readers and ask them to make note of if and when they drop out of your story. Check that focus is right and you’ll elevate your writing.

 “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft  

Would you survive?

gasmask-2142459_960_720 (2)There was a guy who worked at my local supermarket who never said a word. I always thought that he would have a really interesting story.

Sadly, both he and the local supermarket have long gone so I can’t ask him. What I did instead was write a story about how I thought his first day at a new job would be in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

Not so hard, right? Except that the zombie infection only takes super healthy people: the ones who get up at 4am to cross-train for two hours before refuelling with a kale, quinoa and protein booster smoothie. The ones who get to the gym twice a day and run ultramarathons. Can you imagine zombies with that level of fitness? If you can and you’d like to read about it, my story, ‘The Zoo of All Things’ will feature in the After the Rebirth anthology brought out by TANSTAAFL press in April this year. Would you survive the rebirth?

Thirsty for some dark Christmas fiction?

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Shades of Santa: Tales from the Bloody North Pole is a collection of thirty-seven dark flash fiction tales with all proceeds going to charity:water. 663 million people in the world today live without access to clean water. Charity:water is a non-profit organisation bringing clean, safe water to people in developing countries.

My story, ‘Teatime’ is the tale of the wicked Miss Maisy, her devoted manservant, Mr Poole and Juniper, Winter’s child. It appears in the section of the anthology on Snow People and I hope it stirs a shiver or two up your spine.

If you’re thirsty for some fabulous frosty fiction, check out the anthology on Amazon by clicking on the link below.

Shades of SantaAvailable now

 

 

New short stories: coming soon

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Keep a look out, I have two new stories coming in 2018!

‘A Pet is For Life’

Asian urban legends give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s no redemption, no reasoning, no rhyme to how these vengeful ghosts operate. ‘A Pet is For Life’ is my take on the Kuchisake-onna tale and will feature in Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id.

The anthology is scheduled for release in early 2018 by Oz Horror Con and will feature works by authors such as Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell.

Keep an eye out for the anthology here.

‘The Fledgling’

My short story, ‘The Fledgling’ has been contracted with Tales to Terrify and will feature in their 2018 schedule of podcasts. The story delves into a mother’s guilt and the alien landscape of religious education.

Keep an eye out for it on their website here.

If you can’t wait until next year, you can read about some of my other stories in the Published Work section.