CONFLUX 8: In For a Penny, In For a Pound

In for a penny, in for a pound, or how not to lose your head?

I’m typing this from my mother-in-law’s dining room table late Thursday evening, in the hope there will be a spare minute some time after we check in to our hotel Friday to connect and load this up.

We’re in transit from Brisbane to Canberra at the moment, in the middle of no-man’s land when it comes to an Internet connection and telephone reception for me.

If anything is going pear shaped at the moment, it is going that way without me. I can cross my fingers the books have arrived with Lily, the bookstore got my email and Jack Dann isn’t mad at me for leaving it to the last minute to send him through information about FROM STAGE DOOR SHADOWS.

What awaits me this weekend at Conflux is slowly sinking in (unlike last year where I was so bloody excited I couldn’t wait to leave Brisbane). I’ve been so busy finishing books, stressing about books making it to Canberra in time form the printer, doing a rewrite on my novella on a shoe string deadline and preparing for a holiday that I really haven’t had a chance until today to consider just how far I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone.

I often say I live under a rock and am pretty happy there, working, writing, living etc. And it is absolutely true. Like most writers I’m content not to have to ‘put myself out there.’ So to have agreed to sit on three panels, to read from my work, to be an author-in-resident AND do a physical book launch basically catapults me into the great unknown. It is to come out from under my rock and stand blinking in the bright sunlight hoping what happens next is full of juicy goodness.

But this must be done. Not just to move myself forward as a writer, but as an editor and a publisher. Part of me owes this to myself for the years of hard work I’ve put in. The other part of me owes this to the authors who work with me to get eMergent Publishing and it’s imprint out there.

And there is more of this awaiting me in the next six months. Conflux is the perfect place to be warming into this next part of my journey.

If Emma Newman can do, I tell myself, I can too. This is why you need awesome friends and role models to follow. And amazing convenors such as Jane Virgo who invite you to step up and tell you you’ll be fine. You’ll be great!

I just hope when I open my mouth something (semi-intelligent) comes out.

For those floating around Conflux who would like to if something semi-intelligent does issue forth you will find me in these places at these times:


Romance Writers of the Apocalypse (with Nicole Murphy and Tracy O’Hara)

Trends in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic writing (with Cat Sparks, Claire McKenna and Gillian Pollack)

Smith’s Alternative Bookstore to launch FROM STAGE DOOR SHADOWS – you’ll hopefully get to hear myself and Alan Baxter read.


Author-in-residence (this could easily be editor and or publisher in residence!)

Independent publishing and speculative fiction (with Keri Arthur, Keith Stevenson, Bill Congreve and Simon Petrie)

Reading (I’m lucky enough to be paired up with Janeen Webb)

Kaffeeklatsch (with Adam Browne)

Just listing it all makes me feel kind of exhausted and terrified.

And then, for good measure, I’m speaking and reading at A Reader’s Heaven in Lithgow compliments of the hospitality and support of Paul Phillips on Tuesday morning starting at 9:45am. I hope someone pops in to say hello. It will be a nice trial run for being part of the Ironfest Book Festival in April next year.

The trip rounds off with dropping in on Adam – who I haven’t seen since April (and or since Piper’s Reach launched on the web). Will lunch-time be too early to crack open the chocolate port? Or is it ever too early to crack open chocolate port? Or more importantly, will Ella-Louise shut up long enough for me to collect my thoughts on any of the topics I’ll be speaking on tomorrow driving through to Canberra?

I’m Free

I dared to believe at the start of the year of a better way of being. I dared to believe I could return to writing, to fall head over heels in love with it. I dared to conceive a future where depression did not dog me. I dared to think of myself as being separate from eMergent Publishing. I dared to chase my own dreams.

In late May I announced I was taking an extended sabbatical from editing and publishing to focus on writing. It’s a bit like the five year refocus. Five years ago I left editing to focus on writing and ended up founding eMergent Publishing with Paul.

Now I can say, for the first time since 2008 I am free to do anything I want… any old time, Soup Dragons style. Tomorrow I pick up my novel where I left off the weekend of the Rabbit Hole. The characters have been slowly wandering back into my head over the last week, glad to be stretching their legs and saying good-bye to the Green Room.

I am excited.

This heralds the paradigm shift this year has been building toward. More writing. Less editing. Less stress. More work with the people who support, inspire and encourage me.

For the first time since I returned to writing in late 2007, I am respecting and valuing who I am and what I have to offer. This year has taught me a lot about how I do a disservice to myself. No more cow-towing. No more destruction of my boundaries. No more saying yes when no is the answer. No more Ms Nice when people do the wrong thing by me. No more bending over backward to accommodate the needs of others, at my own expense. No more.

There will be more writing. More collaborating with the partners I love and admire. More writing. More dreaming big. More having two feet firmly on the ground. More writing. And hopefully, more opportunities to share those words with a bigger audience.

I could get used to the feeling of being free.



ELYORA Accepted For Publication

The  cover created for the eBook  version sent to Dan.

The hard yards are paying off with writing this year.

The first weekend in June I busted out 21,000 words across a weekend for The Rabbit Hole. I know lots of people poo-poo events such as it (and NaNoWriMo) as “novelty events” with no discernible benefit, but I beg to differ.

Last night I got word my novella, Elyora, written during The Rabbit Hole, will be published in Review of Australian Fiction‘s special December Edition Down the Rabbit Hole.

I’m ecstatic.It’s the first longer piece I’ve attempted and completed as an adult. It’s also the first at the novella length and my debut outing writing horror. And well, there’s the great honour of being considered publishable by RAF.

When indie-rock band, Fauna Bate, break down on their way to Brisbane they seek help in Elyora, a derelict town scrubbed off the map by the Government and populated by locals suffering a disturbing kind of amnesia. When the schism between band members widens and the repeating history of the town encroaches, Jo must remember who she is and find her fellow band members before they are all sung down to the river. ELYORA BLURB

There’s still much work to be done. While the story in itself is tight, the writing in place is appalling. Not even 40+ hours slaving over it in the week leading up to the deadline, could iron out all the bad writing, spelling and grammatical mistakes. A two month break from it will put me in good stead to review and rework it. I’m itching to get back among Elyora’s characters and landscape. I’m also looking forward to sitting on the author side of author-editor relationship. It will be a welcomed sea change to the last five years.

Many thanks to the folk on Facebook who became the Elyora Brains Trust in late July, providing me with rich details I could never have dreamed up in a million years; to Susan who named the band and sparked what became the brains trust; Adam who cheered from the sidelines; Dan who made it the best work possible; my Dad who provided details and dates for cars, petrol bowsers and clocks; my oldest mate Ty who joined the party with a volley of insightful questions; John Banbury on Flickr who provided me with up close photos of petrol bowsers; Laura and Alan, who offered an Evil Plan B should the original publishing options not work my way; and my Mr Ds who allowed me to slink off into my cave for a week.

More proof in this day an age that an author benefits from not existing as an island.

As this goes live, the younger Mr D is wandering around the house after the older Mr D giving him a break down of  ELYORA (told him it’s about what happens when you bully and ostracize people) ie. the watered down, appropriate for an eight-year-old version, but still mentions the body in the garage. I need to get him on the PR bandwagon.

Kill Your Darlings, Then Cry A River

Bruegel’s “Death”

We’re all well acquainted with the saying “Kill your darlings,” the mantra to never be precious about what we write. What does it mean when taken literally? What does it mean for those of us who are unlikely to ever take another human life in our every day existence, to kill on a page (and not just the expendables or the baddies). How does it affect us to be both creators and destroyers of the characters central to our narratives?

Killing In the Name Of

I’ve killed characters before. I don’t know my career body count; I think there is possibly something a little psychotic about knowing how many people you have killed (though it’s a fun tally to keep during NaNoWriMo, especially if Paul Anderson happens to be one of your writing partners!). I’ve never been especially enamoured with death, but it does have a habit of popping up in my stories (I think it’s a given when you write dark fiction): a teenage boy dead from an overdose in “Cocaine, My Sweet Heart”, a reclusive monk with his throat sliced open in an episode of Captain Juan, a woman dying after she contracted death from her best friend’s boyfriend in “I Saw Him Standing There” and the entire world in “Scarecrow Man”.

A bit like birth, death is sacred. As such I never use it to satisfy my impotent rage at the outside world. I also never use death as a means to propel a stale plot forward (one of the charges levelled against writers who kill characters on a regular basis). I never use death as an easy way out, though perhaps I use it as an easy way into a story.

But what if you really care about the character in the cross hairs? It is one thing to kill a character you find reprehensible, and another to kill a character who has a good heart, someone you are attached to, care deeply about.

Another One Bites the Dust

The novella I just finished pretty much ends with all the major characters dead, or with their life hanging in the balance, along with an entire township’s female population decimated by a weidergänger. It didn’t bother me as much as it should have. It creeped me out, especially writing certain scenes long after the rest of my household had gone to sleep, but it didn’t make me cry. I thought it would. My theory: the emotional investment was token at best because of the short time I spent with the characters in the lead up to the submission deadline.

That wasn’t the case in 2009 when I started the second half of a science fantasy novel with the knowledge the eon’s old sage Baji would die. It was a pivotal plot point. He felt his time coming to pass, but I struggled to be as zen about it? I knew (unlike the deaths in my novella) it would be a peaceful, but I my fingers refused to type his passing.

I wrote like he wasn’t going to die (good for a NaNo word count, crap for a story arc, pacing, tension). It was my denial (if you want to map it against Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s theory on grief). Then I got angry, and when I did Baji beat the crap out of his apprentice and almost killed him, in turn almost killing the story. I sent Baji to bargain with the Melissae for his life (which of course did no good, and was pointless because Baji was resolved to his death – it was just me who wasn’t!), and finally I fell in a big deep hole of not wanting to write (what Kübler-Ross would define as the depression phase).

In the end Baji died because I scheduled it on the calendar: Baji dies. I shit you not. That what I wrote in my diary. With tears in my eye, I assembled the Melissae and the apprentice and let Baji go. I’d never felt so tapped out, so drained, so utterly full of remorse. As soon as he was gone, I wanted him back. I felt gutted. Like the worst human ever.

Live or Let Die

On the 6th of next month I will have been writing Ella-Louise for eight months. This is the first time I have spent so much time in the headspace of a character. Her words, actions, feeling and thoughts (along with Jude’s) have an impact on me (and the songs my iPod appears to select on random play). They also have a massive impact on the small but dedicated group of readers who follow the serial.

Adam and I plan nothing ahead (other than what we individually stew and then sit on and later see what fits with the organic arc of the narrative). It is a collaboration where no actual collaboration exists – rather a shared space to meet in with our characters with a strict no spoilers policy. At some point though, it will end… the letters will stop being written, and a death of sorts will occur.

The idea of letting Ella-Louise go makes me nauseous, even though I know it will happen, probably around January next year. I think that, in tandem with the intense emotional atmosphere the project has created, has spurred me to wonder about her ending: what if it was less about writing the final chapter in a book and more about allocating a cemetery plot?

Could I actually do it–could I kill Ella-Louise or Jude or both of them? Could I let Adam do it? Would Adam let me? What would be the emotional fall out of it–it’s one thing to kill off your own characters, but what about characters two authors have invested in? And what would our readers do to us if we did?

Last Good-Bye

Matthew Reilly suffered a barrage of borderline hate mail and was accosted by unhappy fans at book signings when he killed off a favourite character in the fourth book of the Scarecrow series. Alan Baxter killed off a central character in MageSign and said the response wasn’t exactly positive either. It makes me wonder, are readers more forgiving of authors such as Audrey Niffenegger (the Time Traveller’s Wife) and Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) who foreshadow the deaths of the characters readers are poised to become emotionally invested in?

It takes a certain kind of guts to kill off a character you’ve breathed life into, especially if they are central to your story, and makes me wonder if in side stepping death, we’re sparing the reader the pain and anguish, or ourselves?

What has been your experience of death, dying and killing on your page?

This article first appeared on the Write Anything site 16th August 2012

Reflecting on the Piper’s Reach Interviews

When Adam and I considered another round of interviews for Piper’s Reach, as a chance  to build some space between Season One and Season Two, we knew one thing: we weren’t doing nine interviews (I think the addendum was “ever again”).

Starts With Write Club

We had recently convened an online writing group with Laura Meyer and Judge Whisky and decided we’d keep the interviews “internal” so to speak, as we started to brainstorm and flesh out what a writing collective might mean for us as a group of emerging writers. Self promotion within the group seemed like a good start–especially since (for me) Piper’s Reach had brought Judge into my sphere of interest.

Today’s Interview

Laura got the first of the hiatus interviews. Judge has the second today.

While Laura followed up on her previous interview, Judge got a first crack at digging the dirt. Like Laura he directed some questions specifically at Adam or I (because honestly, I have no idea on the question of jelly fish and breast implants). Instead I got to explore the erroneous first impression of Ella-Louise being gay when she first met Jude and Judge tried to get me to ‘fess up just what Jude was feeling guilty. Given there is no consensus among the readers on just what happened I probably just add more food for thought with my answers.

In Defence of Ella-Louise

I also defend Ella-Louise’s honour against assumptions Jude wouldn’t, but she would. Yes, she comes straight out with her heart very much on her sleeve in the early letters but when Jude calls it quits on the self examination of the past, she does whereas he keeps dropping his memories of her into his letters.

It’s easy to skip over Jude’s baiting because it is far less obvious as Ella-Louise’s, but it still very much there in the letters. Perhaps it is because Ella-Louise is audacious enough to think of Jude and her in the future, whereas Jude’s musing is firmly planted in the past?

Re-reading Season One’s letters I really see what Laura meant when she wrote:

It’s a classic theme of regret and love lost, however I found myself reading Jude’s eloquently worded confessions of his past feelings, and wanting to punch him for pouring salt in Ella Louise’s open wounds.

Reflecting On Interview as Introspection

There are two things I love about the process of being interviewed:

1. There’s a chance to see what people think of what you are doing. It’s like a review by default.

2.  You are forced to step back out of the narrative and consider it dispassionately.

For something like Piper’s Reach, where we are so deeply embedded in the narrative, I honestly think it’s a good thing to garner the views of other people and your own taken from a distance.

Everytime I answer a question about Ella-Louise I get to know her a little better. She may have arrived fully formed back in January, but nine months on I’m still getting to know her, trying to understand just what makes her tick.

The impact of Laura and Judge’s interviews will be felt in what Ella-Louise chooses to do next.

Up Next

It’s seven days until Jude’s next letter and everyone will know just what is eating Jude Smith. Both Adam and I are sitting on the edges of our seat waiting to see what the reaction will be. We’ve both got our own assumptions of what those reaction will be.

And while we’re talking about what’s pending in the near future…

Our new promotional post cards should be ready soon and I’ve already got ideas brewing on just how we can use them, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

New Piper’s Reach Interview

Post Marked: Piper’s Reach is currently on a two week hiatus. To fill the gap between Season One and Two Adam and I shared interviews with Laura Meyer and Joshua Londero – our fellow Monday night Write (Chat) Clubbers and avid Piper’s fans.

Laura hosts us today and does a stellar job of putting together an insightful interview interlaced with her own incisor commentary.

Here’s a bit that ended up on the cutting floor:

“We’ve opened a closed medium, allowing readers into a private space that protects and fosters the intimacy and raw honesty between two people who care about each other. I think readers enjoy the socially sanctioned voyeurism, though they’d be loath to admit it.”

Drop in and read what didn’t get cut to accommodate the word count, and if you do, please leave a comment, reflection or a question of your own. I’m waiting for someone to ask Adam why the quest for the perfect cardigan has so far been unsuccessful and if he intends to give up the quest with the warmer weather approaching!

Oh, and here is the final letter for Season One, just in case you missed all the hoo-hah last week.

Best of Friday Flash 2 Book Cover

Last week, eP in conjunction with the #fridayflash community unveiled not one but five potential book covers* for the second collection of The Best of Friday Flash. The cover design was inspired by a blog post I read several months ago by Craig Mod and riffs off the original cover design of 100 Stories for Haiti.





When I sat down to design it I wanted to create an evergreen design for the #fridayflash community, something that would not only brand the anthologies but make the cover an easy task in coming years: a simple design that only required small tweaks in colour and background titles to produce a unique but recognisable new cover.

Rather than decide between the four of us (Jon, Rachel, Tony and myself) we decided to throw it out to the community of writers and readers to decide what colour the cover would be.

Voting is open for one more day. Votes may be cast here. And the good news is, if your colour doesn’t get up this year, there is always next year!

*Clicking on any of the individual covers will allow you to look at a larger image.