SnapShot 2014

[SnaphotLogo2014%255B4%255D.png]It’s my first year involved with the SpecFic Downunder SnapShot and I have to thank Sean Wright for yet again investing in my writing career. In the interview I talk about new collaborative projects, the erratic nature of poetry, bending narratives, what Australian spec-fic I’ve read recently and loved, what it would take to get to the bottom of my to read pile and drop the news on a flash fiction collection.

You can read the full interview here.

From Short Story to Short Story Collection (and all stops between)

An interview with Dan Powell

I’ve known Dan Powell since mid-2009. We stumbled across each other between Constantine Markide’s Fourth Fiction and the inception of #fridayflash. We were both relatively new to writing and wrote shoulder-to-shoulder through much of the second half of 2009. I greatly admired the scope and versatility of Dan’s writing. There seemed to be no style or genre he couldn’t turn his hand to with style and efficacy. In time we fell into a critiquing partnership that has endured the birth of children, moving countries, breakdowns, work pressures, time pressures, and all other things life can, and does, throw your way.

DanAuthorPicI’ve had the honour to publish three of Dan’s stories (‘This Be The Verse’, ‘Driver and the Beautiful Highway’, ‘Perfect Light’). He is an editor’s dream. In 2012 I had the opportunity to adapt ‘Driver and the Beautiful Highway’ for a short film script.

Behind the scenes I’ve had the joy of watching so many of Dan’s story grow and evolve and go on to find homes in magazines, anthologies and on prize lists. I tell in my editing seminars, in the section on beta reading, how Dan once sent me a story which was just an opening and closing. In the middle was a note: [something goes here. Do you have any ideas what it might be?] Those days are long past for Dan!

Dan’s work is uncompromising and at times uncomfortable in its exploration of taboo subjects or hidden ‘domestic’ situations. I have been disturbed and delighted by the characters and stories Dan has penned. In 2010 I (jokingly!) said to Dan: no more shit stories. Read ‘Soiled’ and ‘Did You Pack This Bag Yourself’ and you’ll understand the comment in context of a stay-at-home Dad going through toilet training!

Dan is one of my writing heroes: his dedication to the writing communities he belongs to (in the early days of the Friday Flash community he read and commented on every story, even when the list blew out to 70 odd stories), his dedication to the craft (his commitment to the Short Story a Day challenge back in 2010 was one of the catalyst in the evolution of his stories IMO), his dedication to Flash Fiction as a form (he has reviewed and shared countless stories from sites such as Metazen) and his work ethic (write, sub, and keeping subbing).

Then there is the huge investment Dan has made my work over the years as my crit partner. He knows my work inside-out and has consistently challenged me to write learner, harder and deeper. His editorial stamp is on so many of my stories, including Elyora/River of Bones.

Today it’s my pleasure to look across my desk and see copies of Looking Out of Broken Windows sitting there… and to grill him about the process of creating a short story collection.

Lou Reed said: I can’t do anything I want to. I mean, I can’t have my own TV show. I can’t have my own movie. But within my little world, no body tells me what to put on the album. It made me think of how writing stories is not too different to writing songs.

bookondeskThat is exactly what I love about writing. I write exactly the stories that I would love to read. That level of control is unique to the prose writer. Every other type of story-telling requires collaboration and as such means you relinquish some of that control, some of that freedom. I’ve written comic scripts and I love collaborating with artists and watching the words come to life in a kinetic fashion, but you cannot beat the raw freedom you get faced with a blank page about to be filled with prose.

I am genuinely excited by what I am writing about at any given time. You can’t beat that feeling of writing exactly what you want to write. Seeing that work go on to be accepted for publication and enjoyed by readers is particularly thrilling. It justifies all those choices, both conscious and unconscious, that you make during the crafting of the piece.

David Byrne said that sometimes there is an unconscious thread that runs through the songs on an album. The same could be said about writing short stories; that as writers we are drawn to tell certain types of stories and or give voice to certain types of characters. How indicative is Looking out of Broken Windows of the types of stories/characters you are drawn to and how did those stories influence the inception of the collection?

This collection is absolutely indicative of the kinds of stories and characters I was interested in exploring over the last four or five years.

I am drawn to the broken and damaged parts of people. In those aspects of character lie the real stories. All of the characters in these stories are a little broken, a little damaged and struggling to deal with the events and actions that have made them that way. This thread emerged in an unconscious process. Once I began filtering the stories during selection, it was very clear that a certain core group would provide the spine of the collection.

Being broken is a major part of the human experience. If you’re lucky you pick yourself up and carry on, hopefully with the help of others. This collection explores that side of being a person.

From that inception point, what was the process of creating Looking Out of Broken Windows? What was the hardest part and what was the easiest part of the process?

The short stories are the backbone of the collection. Once I had that group it was a matter of selecting the flash fictions that best complimented the stories.

The hardest part of the process was realising that certain stories just wouldn’t make the cut for the collection. I knew early on that a good few stories that I really loved, that I thought were good enough to include, just didn’t fit the overall theme and feel of the collection.

Looking at the collection now I can see that I absolutely made the right choices over what to include. And of those that it really hurt to cut, a good two or three have a firm place in the next collection, which they are perfect for, so it all worked out. Conversely, the easiest part was probably the removal of those stories that weren’t quite good enough.

LOoBW has 27 stories in it. How many stories did you have the pool and how did you choose what went in and what was held over?

I pulled the very best stories from the last five years or so of my writing to make up the collection. From a total pool of around 26 stories and 32 flash fictions I ended up with the 27 pieces in the collection. So by that reckoning, I trimmed away just over half of the stories that might have earned a place.

Most of those were cut because they simply weren’t good enough. Others were kept back for my next collection as they simply did not fit the emerging theme of this collection.

The real turning point for selection came with the writing of the title story (which was the last story to be completed in the collection). I knew as soon as I typed the final words that the collection had a story that would act as its figurehead. Once I had that, I had a title for the collection and the rest slotted into place.

Many of the stories in LOoBW were published previously in journals, magazines and anthologies. How does including previously published stories impact on the logistics of putting a collection together?

LOOBW lower res coverThat side of things was all very simple. All the stories were published at least a year ago and therefore out of any exclusivity that their previous publications claimed. For all of them I have copyright so that side of things was not an issue.

All of the stories that appeared previously elsewhere are mentioned in the acknowledgements of the collection, along with my sincere thanks to all the editors who championed my work by putting it online and in print. Their support was a crucial stepping-stone to this collection being accepted for publication.

Do the previously published stories appear as the fans of your work will remember them? Or did some require re-working to fit the overall feel of the anthology?

All the stories appear pretty much as they were originally published. The exception is ‘Did You Pack This Bag Yourself?’ which you will remember appeared in Chinese Whisperings interconnected short story anthology The Yin and Yang Book as ‘This Be The Verse.’

It was a story I absolutely needed to include, as no character of mine is more broken than poor old Calvinsweetheart. The rewriting was not about making the story fit the theme in this case, but taking the story back to its core, removing the elements that tied it in to the world of the Yin and Yang books, so the story could stand on its own two feet amidst my other work.

In the past when I’ve configured anthology ToCs I’ve been very mindful to place each story so it’s position amplifies the narrative but also builds the stories around it. Who decided on the final ToC order and how do you think your stories are altered/experienced differently in having them together in a single collection?

The final order of stories was totally my own decision. Salt are happy to trust their authors to shape their books. I think they believe that no-one knows the book better than the author and as such they give you a great deal of freedom regarding which stories you include and in what order.

I think my stories all stand up as separate pieces of fiction but hopefully, when read together like this, the reader will see the connections and resonances between the many narratives squeezed between the covers.

Hip hop artist Mos Def says all his albums are snapshots of where he is artistically. How is Looking Out of Broken Windows a snap shot of you are both as an artist and a person?

It is definitely a snapshot of me as a writer between 2008 and 2013.

All of the stories were written during that period and as such can’t help but reflect where I was at that time both as a writer and a human being. Many of the stories focus on the domestic, which is probably a direct result of my being a househusband and full-time-father during that time. It’s why there are so many stories about pregnancy and babies in the book, why there are so many stories about marriages, so many stories about parent and child relationships.

Are there any hints at what might be in your next collection?

My next collection is already taking shape. I have five or six stories for it already. This one is going to be all about the idea of masculinity in the 21st century.

It’s creative process is quite different as I have a clear idea of the general feel of this collection from the off and I am consciously writing stories that have something to say about that idea. Hopefully this will mean that this one won’t take so long to complete. The first of these stories, ‘Rip Rap’, has just been short listed for the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize. With luck some of the others will start appearing in publications and prize shortlists very soon.

– – –

Dan Powell is a prize winning author whose short fiction has appeared in the pages of Carve, Paraxis, Fleeting and The Best British Short Stories 2012. His debut collection of short fiction, Looking Out Of Broken Windows, was shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2013 and is published by Salt. He procrastinates at and on Twitter as @danpowfiction.

Dan is giving away a signed copy of Looking Out of Broken Windows to one reader of the blog tour; he will post to anywhere in the world. To win just leave a comment on this post or any of the other LOoBW blog tour posts appearing across the internet during March 2014. The names of all commenters will be put in the hat for the draw, which will take place on April 6th.

Looking Out of Broken Windows (Salt Publishing) hits the shelves Saturday 15th March. You can pre-order at the following locations:

The Salt store
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository

BOFF2 Australian Blog Hop: Stacey Larner

To celebrate the launch of Best of Friday Flash Vol. 2 (or BOFF2), the tiny Aussie contingent is doing a Blog Hop (otherwise known as “the blop”). I’m hosting S.G Larner, who talks about her melancholic offering, “The House Cemetery”.

If you hop (skip or jump) over to Jason Coggin’s site you can read about my story “She-Hero”. But more importantly, stop in on the way and buy BOFF2 here and join the Facebook online release party.

“House Cemetery” – S. G. Larner

“Some handle it better than others. I tend to dwell on things, to make them seem much worse than they really are. Harold is an eternal optimist; it irritates me how he’s so cheerful all the time. Always putting a positive spin on it. Like there’s some good in being cut in half and abandoned on the side of the road.”

My memory of the inspiration for House Cemetery is a bit like a dream, all muddled and incoherent. There are fragments of the truth in what I remember though.

There is a memory of forlorn looking houses for sale in a lot by the motorway, somewhere north of Brisbane. I once lived in a house that was destined to be cut in half and taken to a place very much like that. I’ve seen houses on the backs of wide trucks that drove slowly with lights flashing and WIDE LOAD displayed. Cars banked up behind them, frustrated by the delay.

And finally, my partner saying something like, “Imagine if the houses were alive, and it was like a graveyard for them.”

Sentient houses abandoned in a used house sales lot, slowly rotting. Wow, what kind of torture would that be?

Friday Flash

House Cemetery was actually my first #fridayflash story, prior to that I was doing [Fiction] Friday, and then I took a bit of a hiatus to concentrate on other writing. I have to credit Jodi Cleghorn with getting me over to [Fiction Friday], the forum which prodded me to start writing regularly. I resisted Twitter for a long time because I am time poor, but when I joined I jumped into #fridayflash. After a while I decided to prioritise submission pieces but I still like to participate in #fridayflash where I can.

S. G. Larner (@StaceySarasvati) is an overachieving mother-of-three. Her sleep deprived haze isn’t enough to keep her away from the delights of the written word. A denizen of sunny Brisbane, Australia, she revels in exploring the dark underbelly of the world in her works. She has several stories published, has been called a proofreading goddess and grammar juggernaut, and contributes to a collaborative sound/image/text project called The Included Middle with her partner.

Aussie Blog Hop participants:

Adam Byatt
Tim Collard
S.G. Larner
Jason Coggins

On the Eve of Author: With Adam Byatt

Strange things happened out here… like when you and your writing partner find yourselves on the precipice of writing your first full length novel on the same day without actually planning to do so!

We’ve been writing Post Marked: Pipers Reach since the start of January. At the time Adam was preparing his novel and looking forward to taking his long service leave to write. I on the other hand was still sorting myself out. By the time I had myself straightened out and decided to clock off time to write a novel, Adam was well into his planning.

Across the last three weeks we’ve been texting “to do lists” to each other in the morning, keeping each other on track as we both worked to reach a June 1st start date. So I feel charmed to be standing (virtually) with Adam tonight, should to shoulder… equal parts excited and shit-scared…. ready to do it. Really, do it!

Tomorrow we descend into our bat caves of creativity (one in Brisbane and one in Sydney), throw on our “will-be author” capes (mine’s an eye catching red and comes with fingerless gloves attached on strings) and hammer down the highway, word counts ticking over like the speedo on the batmobile.

But before we do, a few words from Adam, after I wet-willied him into submission and he  agreed to answer a few questions on what happens next.

Tell us a little about your novel eagerly waiting in the wings?

This novel was a seed planted about six, maybe seven, years ago. Over the years I have had different ideas as to what form it might take when it broke the surface, from poem to picture book to short story (I have a half finished multimedia novella based on a similar concept to finish at a later date). Now it has germinated into a novel.

In my flash fiction and short stories I explore facets of people’s everyday existence and see how they play out. Even the most “average” of characters has a complexity of life, reflected in multiple shades of colour, not simple black and white. I call this “suburban realism.” It sounds less pretentious and avoids the narcissistic overtones of calling it literary fiction. And I can’t write literary fiction–whatever it’s supposed to look like.

Parallel Lines follows the life of Sarah McDonald and her relationships with her mother, Marie and eldest daughter, Elizabeth. Anxiety and depression plague Sarah’s life, leading to an act of self-harm that leaves her clinging to life. She is found by Elizabeth and it forces her to confront her mental state. Sarah’s decision to enter into a psychiatric hospital at the beginning of the school year has major implications for Elizabeth.

While in hospital Sarah begins a journal, while Elizabeth begins a blog. Each woman chronicles her response to the event and how it impacts on her life. Sarah looks for the answers in the relationship with her mother while Elizabeth wonders if she will replicate the life of her mother, particularly as she is in the final year of high school.

How does mental illness affect a person and their relationship with family and friends? Should it be kept in the private world or can it be shared in the public sphere?

How would you encapsulate each major character in your novel in a single sentence?

Sarah is a 42 year-old mother, an accountant and pianist who understands patterns and systematic order, whose life begins to fall apart when mental illness usurps her understanding of who she is, sending her into a self-destructive cycle.

Elizabeth, Sarah’s 17 year-old daughter in her last year of high school, picks up the pieces dropped by her mother and tries to work out if the picture she is putting together is a reflection of what she will become while attempting to create an understanding of herself.

What preparation have you done prior to writing?

I am a little OCD in some things and the idea of writing a novel without prior planning and a blank page sends my underpants into a state of disrepair. I doubt that those novelists who “pants” their novels haven’t thought long and hard about what they are going to write.

Using Karen Weisner’s book, “First Draft in 30 Days” was my way of constructing a viable narrative. Modifying the activities in Weisner’s plan gave me a strong novel outline to tinker with. It resembles a long rambling essay, without dialogue and description, but it had the key events written out.

I had key points serving as markers for the division of Acts 1, 2 and 3, and built the framework around that. After one version I printed it off, read through it and scribbled notes in the margin of new scenes, fleshing out subplots or tightening the tension for the characters. Add in the new notes and details, print and re-read. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

I needed a road map, directions to follow, so even if my characters take a divergent stroll through a random street, I can bring them back. However, I am prepared to change the story if the tangent makes a stronger narrative.

Will you have a daily word count to keep you on track or do you write until you feel you’ve done enough?

My (idealistic) aim is 3,000 words a day, following the Stephen King model of putting my backside in a chair and not getting out until the word count is reached. I’ve set aside June as the month to complete my novel (taking long service leave to do so). It was not my original plan, but the death of a relative changed the first few weeks of my planning and involved rescheduling. This would mean a novel of 90,000 words, yet it if comes under or goes over, I have no problem with that, although anything less than 75,000 and I’ll feel a little cheated.

Where do you see yourself this time next week? What’s the biggest obstacle you face in the next 10 days?

By this time next week, I hope to have crossed the 20,000 word mark, about the end of Act 1. This weekend I have 3 shows to play (a previous commitment) so that takes a large chunk of the weekend and limits writing time, but I’ll put in what I can.

The biggest obstacle I face is maintaining momentum. And not procrastinating.

After having had this idea in my head for so long, I fear I will not be able to do it justice. I hope the vision I have for this novel will come to pass on the page in front of me.

My interview On the Last Day of Being Something Other Than Writer is here.

Adam is an English teacher and occasional drummer sifting through the ennui, minutiae and detritus of life and cataloguing them as potential story ideas.  They are pretty much a pad of sticky notes on the fridge door. Occasionally he finds loose change. He inhabits twitter as @revhappiness and writes flash fiction and blogs at A Fullness in Brevity

Spotlight On: Patty Jansen

It’s a warm welcome (on this cold Winter’s day) to Australian author Patty Jansen in the very first interview to appear at Writing in Black and White.

Patty lives in Sydney where she writes hard SF, space opera and weird fantasy. Apart from Writers of the Future, her fiction has appeared recently in Redstone SF and Dead Red Heart (her story “Quaratine” comes highly recommended – especially for any Aussies whohave lived or holidayed in the vicinity of Townsville!)

Patty talks with me about her involvement with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, winning the Writers of the Future competition, traditional and self publishing, the background of “must use bigger elephants” and of course… her books!

You belong to the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine collective. What makes ASIM special, as far as journals/magazines go? What do you do as part of the collective?

ASIM is run as collective, which makes it both a little bit mad and very resilient. A bit mad because we have a different editor for every issue, which means there is not one taste in particular represented in the magazine. Instead, I think it is a very good cross-section of up-and-coming writers from around the world. The magazine has proven very resilient, because when one person drops out for whatever reason, there is always someone else to pick up the slack, and this is why we’ve now been going for almost ten years and have produced more than 50 issues. Rotating membership of the co-op ensures a constant influx of keen people to learn about the business of producing a print magazine, and so ASIM has been the breeding ground for many Australian writing and editing careers.

My tasks in the collective are as slush reader, proof reader and occasionally as editor. I’m currently editing issue 53. I also look after non-fiction and book reviews. Sometimes I use the @ASIMtweets twitter account. The crazy thing is that I have no idea who else tweets on this account, but it’s clear someone does (either that or the resident ASIM ghost has been playing with the controls again).

Your story “This Peaceful State of War” won 1st place last year in the Writers of the Future (second quarter) contest and is published in Volume 27. What is “This Peaceful State of War” about? Has anything changed for you since winning the contest?

The story:

Years ago, humanity discovered a planet with intelligent life, but the—vaguely humanoid—inhabitants had nothing to sell and wanted nothing from humans. After failing to achieve even basic communication with the natives, all important human agencies left, and the planet was left in charge of a religious mission. When the story starts, a war has broken out between the two native species and the missionaries are trying to play peacekeeper. Miranda Tonkin is a delegate from a peace agency whose task it is to decide whether the money the agency sinks into the unsolvable conflict should be withdrawn. But while she is on the planet, this previously distant conflict comes to life, and she falls in the same, very human, trap that has ensnared the religious brothers, because the nature of this war fools all human senses.

What has changed?

Phew. It would probably be easier for me to say what hasn’t changed. Before my win, I was a total nobody. Six months later, I’ve sold enough fiction to join SFWA as full member and there are some very shiny things in the pipeline which you’ll hear about in due course.

The Writers of the Future Contest is by far the biggest competition of its kind in the world. It’s unique. They’re a bit coy about how many entries they get every quarter, but it’s somewhere in the four figures. To be one of the three winning entries out of all those is nothing short of amazing. The winning entries are the people who go to the workshop in Hollywood, where you spend more than a week getting the inside story from most of the judges and a selection of other significant writers. This entire experience is—I know it gets boring—nothing short of amazing. To have Gregory Benford come up to me and tell me he enjoyed my story is beyond belief. Ditto with Kevin Anderson, Mike Resnick, Larry Niven. At a con you’d be lucky to spend five minutes talking to these people while you’re waiting at the registration desk. At the workshop, you spend days with them.

As a result—what’s changed? A lot. For one, confidence. Hey, I can actually write a decent story. Hey, my view of publishing is shared by some others. Secondly, contacts. You know these people, you can ask them questions. Thirdly—people, editors, agents, take notice. A Writers of the Future win makes a huge difference in the type of responses you get from publishers.

Your books are published traditionally and also self published? What are the pros and cons of each style of publishing for you?

My aim is to continue to do both. The benefits of being traditionally-published are widely underrated by self-publishing proponents. In short, traditional publishers have readers, a ready-made audience. Unless you’re extremely lucky, and you write paranormal romance, you’ll find it really hard to get anywhere near that sort of audience for an unknown writer. You need to be published in traditional venues to acquire the audience.

The advantage of self-publishing is that you can keep your published material in print, available for people to read when they search for your name, and not buried four menus deep in the archives of a magazine site. Or, heaven forbid, under a stack of fifty books in the TBR pile.

Most of my shorter ebooks are pre-published stories.

I also have two self-published novels. Because it takes such a long time to go from query, to full manuscript request, to publication offer, by the time said publication offer fell through, I was no longer writing that type of fiction and did not want to continue marketing those novels to traditional press. When I sell a novel to traditional press, it will be either hard SF or space opera. My SF for kids and my planetary romance novels were a huge lot of fun to write, and great stories, but they’re no longer representative for what I most want to sell.

Most of all, I treat my Smashwords account as a repository for virtual business cards. Because I have samples up of all genres I’ve written, I give away a lot of fiction

Tell us about “Must Use Bigger Elephants”.

Must Use Bigger Elephants is my blog and the focus point for all my activities. Why this strange title?

Well, supposing you filled the entire surface of the Moon with elephants. And at the blow of a whistle (yeah, the whistle would be inaudible, but never mind), they all started running in the same direction. Would their combined mass speed up the Moon and show us the dark side? Well, not really, according to my calculations, at least not noticeably within a human lifetime (and that’s a long time for an elephant to keep running, never mind to hold its breath). But my story required the Moon to speed up through running elephants. Which leaves only one solution: Must Use Bigger Elephants. Science Fiction is about bigger elephants. It’s about extrapolating the known into the as-yet-un-achieved. What if you filled the Moon with mammoths?

On the blog, I discuss writing, science, science in fiction as well as the activities of my fellow writers and editors. You can also find links to my fiction.

A final note on Patty’s Books

Out of the nine titles I have available currently, I’d like to point out my novelette His Name In Lights, which is a character-focused hard SF novelette published in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette.

Watcher’s Web with the gorgeous cover by Nico Photos is my planetary romance novel. I had a huge amount of fun writing it.

The Far Horizon is a novel for younger readers. When my kids were young, I read to them every night. I noticed that there is lots of fantasy, but almost no Science Fiction. I set out to write a very human story with separate layers for both kids and their parents.

You can find all Patty’s ebooks on Smashwords or Amazon. You can ‘like’ her author page on Facebook  or follow her on Twitter.

My interview with Patty can be found here.