At Arm’s Length

Huzzah!! ‘At Arm’s Length’ (affectionately known to those close as ‘The Arm Story’) is out today in the latest Tincture Literary Journal.

tincture11

The feelings engendered by Publication Day never get old. And it’s been a while (for a variety of reasons) since I had a story published in a journal or anthology, thus today is extra sparkly and a beverage or two may be consumed in celebration.

A LONG ROAD

The first words were put down New Years Eve 2013/14 but it took a really long time to find the final form. The premise (a woman wakes up one morning to discover her arm is missing) is a pretty unbelievable scenario. Because the story asks the reader to suspend their disbelief, I had to absolutely nail all the other real-life details and motivations, and that took a while. The story is pretty indicative of how I was feeling at the time: slowly disappearing into invisibility, losing parts of myself along the way, lost in suburban obscurity.

It was also my first experimentation with the metaphysical side of magical realism which perhaps accounts for the length of time it took to hone and home it.

THANK YOU

Many thanks go to my beta readers: Dan Powell, Ben Payne and S.G. Larner. Special thanks to the editors of Urban Fantasy Magazine who provided amazing feedback with their rejection. And last of all, thank you to Daniel for again believing in my work and giving it a home at Tincture.

TO TINCTURE, AND BEYOND

You can read Daniel’s editorial, peruse the table of contents, add it to Goodreads or more importantly, buy a copy of Tincture Issue 11.

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Coming Soon… Tincture 11

A sneak preview of what lingers in the wings as the release of the next Tincture draws closer.
Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 7.33.57 pm At Arm’s Length is a magical realism slice of domestic obscurity and invisible love with nods of the head to the work of Dan Powell and Nik Perring.

Tincture Literary Journal’s 11th issue is released September 1st.

Nothing New to Begin – Tincture Journal

IMG_1185Earlier this year, my collection of vignettes “Nothing New to Begin” was lucky enough to find a home at Tincture Journal after a year cooling heels in competitions and slush piles.

I wrote it in August 2012 as I was waiting to hear back about “Elyora” (back in the days when it was a truly terrible barely second draft in the submissions folders at Review of Australian Fiction) and while Adam and I were neck deep writing Post Marked: Piper’s Reach.

I wrote it as a little bit of therapy. For those of you who read PMPR in its online incarnation, you’ll understand! I also wrote it as a challenge: to capture moments in less than 250 words. It was my hope that each section could be read alone, but together they would build and develop a shared narrative of the two main characters. I have Dan to thank for stripping it back to the bare essentials.

“Nothing New to Begin” is now available for free on the Tincture website.

The latest Tincture, Issue Six is available here, with stories by S.G. Larner, Adam Byatt, Tiggy Johnson and Sam van Zweden.

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 danpowellfiction.com 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

Author Update #1

Happy Dark Moon. This is the first of what will hopefully be a semi-regular round up of my writing plus the writing and projects of those around me.

A MONTH OF POETRY

February was #postitenotepoetry month. I came out of the month with just under 40 poems—well ahead of the ‘dared’ 28. Unlike the “29 Days of Haiku” last year, I loved every minute of #postitnotepoetry. It became an unexpected and very welcomed outlet for a lot of difficult stuff I faced behind the scenes.

PODCAST

During the January heatwave, I sat down in my air-conditioned writing room to chat with Sean Wright for his Adventures of a Bookonaut podcast. I’ve done a few interviews (including on 4ZZZ) but this was the first time I’d been interviewed as a writer, and it was so much fun. The glowing feedback from Sean came at just the right time, as I sat poised on making the BIG decision to spend a year away from editing and publishing to write. It was also on Sean’s insistence that I sent ELYORA out into the big wide world.  Which brings me to…

ELYORA

My horror novella, published as part of Review of Australian Fiction’s Rabbit Hole special, is out in the wild. It has a brand new beginning, new title and hopefully a new home with the prospect of some financial return. Fingers crossed for good news in the next couple of weeks.

ONE SMALL STEP: AN ANTHOLOGY OF DISCOVERIES

Fablecroft’s next anthology ONE SMALL STEP: an anthology of discoveries is now available for pre-order. The all female anthology will launch at NatCon/Conflux next month. Looking at the ToC, I still pinch myself…that “Firefly Epilogue” sits alongside stories of some of my favourite authors.

FIRST TO A HUNDRED

A story idea for a piece of flash fiction, spawned by Adam’s commentary on cricket and tennis over summer, grew in one afternoon to a 5000 word story (in one sitting – making it the one easy story afforded a year – in the second week of my creative year!). “First to a Hundred” will be my entry in the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. In a quirk of narrative, the story steps aside from weird spec-fic I’m used to penning and is instead a YA coming-of-age story set on a Victorian beach in the late 1980’s. It’s the story that made all the important men in my life cry!

BIRTHPUNK

I have started on my set of six interlocking birthpunk novellas. I’m currently working on “Sylvie”—the original story that inspired the entire concept of birthpunk. With so many debates going on around the world about women’s corporeal rights (ie. Rights to choose what happens to their bodies) it would appear this is the year to be writing about a world where women’s corporeal rights have been stripped away. Where the Government controls all aspects of fertility and reproduction.

It is hard going at the moment, getting my head around the world building, with some extra distractions going on behind the scenes. The enormity of what I’m attempting weighs heavily on my confidence, despite the small, but dedicated cheer squad who keep telling me it’s awesome and I can do it. I’m hoping to have the first novella completed in the next fortnight.

POST MARKED: PIPER’S REACH

Adam and I have reached the point where we’re acknowledging the end is nigh. But if you think either of us has any idea how it ends, you’d be wrong. It’s not going to be in the next couple of letters, it might be even longer than a few more after that, but it’s definitely on the horizon.

I might not know how it’s going to end, but I do know what I had in mind for the ending this time last year, has been somewhat gutted by the unravelling of events in the last 12 months. There has been discussion that it will end where it started…with a letter from Ella-Louise. We’ll see.

Adam and I are planning to gift print copies of the Christmas Special as a chapbook, accompanied with Jude’s mix tape from 1991. We’re compiling a list of fans and supporters. If you have been a lurker, now would be the time to out yourself.

AROUND THE TRAPS

Joanne Anderton’s debut short story collection, THE BONE CHIME SONG is available for pre-order through FableCroft. I can’t wait to see what is between the pages and looking forward to getting a signed copy at NatCon.

Jessica Bell released her novella The Book in last January and followed up with a short story The Hum of Sin Against Skin last week.

Chris Chartrand unveiled Worth A Thousand Words podcast last month. It is wonderful mash up of photo prompts, writing, podcasting and interviews. I’m currently gestating a story for submission. I’d love to hear something I wrote be narrated by Chris.

Maria Kelly’s story “Parker’s Pygmallion”, a twist on Shaw’s concept, won the Phi Theta Kappa Florida Regional award for Best Short Story—Fiction.

Nicole Murphy released the yearly anthology from In Fabula-divino mentoring project yesterday. It contains a bunch of truly awesome stories, including S.G. Larner’s “Regret” (definitely one of my favourite stories of Stacey’s!)

Emma Newman’s BETWEEN TWO THORNS, the first in the Split Words Trilogy was released by Angry Robot in late February and my copy arrived on Friday. You can purchase at the following locations: UK Edition – US Edition. Em was also the featured author at SFX magazine’s Issue 233 with a corker photo that had Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne nominated Em as the next Doctor!

Dan Powell was joint winner of the Carve Esoteric Prize (2013) for “Storm in a Tea Cup” and his short story collection “Looking Out Of Broken Windows” is short listed for the International Scott Prize for Short Stories. You can read an interview with Dan here on the Salt Publishing website about the collection.

Sean Wright sat on the other side of the interviewing desk with Emma Raven of E-book Revolution talking about a bunch of things from attending local writing events to the best use of Twitter and and Goodreads.

Ponies, Admin Aversion, Dark Erotica & Kicking Bad Habits

My friend Tom Dullemond, one half of the fabulous Literarium directed my attention to the story Ponies by Kij Johsnson on the Tor.com site last night and asked me what I thought of it. In short – it is one of the most powerful stories I have read in a long time, as well as the most settling and thought-provoking. I’ll be talking about this story for weeks, if not months to come. Only after we’d had a back and forth for a few minutes about it over twitter, did he tell me it was the joint winner of the 2011 Nebula Prize for the short story.

The upshot of it was Tom didn’t think much of it was a story. Which got me thinking – was there an inherent gender bias in the reactions to the story. Yes, it’s about girls and their ponies… but it is about so much more than that. Just scratch a little under the surface. I feel it is an important read for anyone who is a daughter or has a daughter.

It is interesting to note also, in livestock handling there is a term called ‘Cutting Out’ which refers to a stockman and his horse targeting an animal and ‘cutting it out’ of the herd. You’ll see aspiring rodeo heroes doing it across the world. Knowing this, it gives a whole new level of meaning to the story.

But don’t take my word for it… go across and read. I’d love to know what you think.

– – –

Today is admin day. See if I don’t dedicate some time to it, I just won’t do it. While I’m saving the fun of doing the front cover of The Red Book for later, I have a list of ISBN’s to register with BowkerLink. This was a job Paul used to have, but it made better sense for me, given I’m in the same time zone. Plus, it was a pain in the arse, the easy submission system never worked for him and it must have taken him all of half a second to agree to hand the job over to me.

When we bought our first block of ten ISBNs back at the end of December 2009, we both looked at the list of numbers and wondered how the hell we would ever fill them. Well we filled them within a year and having bought the next block of numbers, we’ve already allocated ALL of them. Amazing.

Later on, once I’ve done battle with BowkerLink its time to pen some new bios. I’m not sure yet how I feel about admitting in such a public way that I am the recipient of ‘The Hembury’, or even how you actually wind that into a bio. I write fiction right – it should be a sinch. Ha!

– – –

When Dan Powell asked me to be part of his My Life in Short Fiction I was more than willing to be part of it. I found it a useful process, to think about the short stories which might have influenced me. I realised there is a close link between what I write and what I read, and how that pattern was strongly shaped by the writing and reading I did at high school.

We were only ever encouraged to write short stories. I have a folder full of them. But we were never exposed to short stories to read. I read a totally of ONE, yes read, ONE, fictional short story through my English years. This hangover remains… I write short fiction and my bed side table is full of novels.

This is something I am working to address. As May is Short Story Month – I committed to only read is short fiction for a month and I’ve been surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. I’ve read Cate Kennedy’s Dark Roots, #50 Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and I’ve almost finished Dead Red Heart. From now on there will be more anthologies on my bed side table. Which just goes to show, you can teach an old dog new tricks!

– – –

My re-writes on “Saw Him Standing There” the story I penned for Susan May James Sunday Snaps: The Shorts are complete and the story is submitted (yes almost two weeks ahead of the deadline!)

The story is inspired by another short story I wrote, based in a churchyard. The thing I’m most happy with (and my beta readers too) was the mastery of the imagery. Anyone who knows me, knows descriptive narrative is my Achilles. I write as little of it as possible. I find descriptive narrative totally boring in novels and short stories alike (yes, I will actually skip ahead if there are paragraphs of it). It has to be unique or beautifully written to hold my attention. It’s been beta reading for Jason Coggins which has really given me the shove to take my descriptive narrative more seriously and try to excel at it, rather than simply avoid it.

I’m thinking this time around the descriptions works so well because worked from a photograph– something I could actually see (given I don’t see things, only hear voices when I write my work). It was the clear leadlighted windows in the church which appealed to me most and I actually blew the photo up to look intimately at the detail in the window and then paced around the bedroom trying to work out the best way to describe them.

Jen Brubacher who worked on the piece as a line editor said in her email:

“It’s dark as you say, but it isn’t unbalanced. Your description is terrific, from the church yard to the sex and even the women by the mirror (familiar sight for most of us I guess). The pace and length are right on and I love the way you circle around “what goes around come around,” and the idea that it’s deathly serious.”

The best bit about it all… this story was a joy to write and after months of writing being a hard slog, it’s given my confidence a well timed injection. I didn’t think the redemption of my writing confidence would be in a dark, erotic tale! You’ll have to wait a few months, to read it though. The slated release date is 19th September – which will pair the photos and stories. A text only paperback and eBook will be available in October.

Thanks to Jason Coggins, Chris Chartrand and Jen Brubacher for being the best darn pit crew any writer could ever wish for.

My Life in Short Fiction

A month ago Dan Powell, one of my good friends and an uber talented writer to boot, invited me to be part of his “My Life in Short Fiction” series of interviews. Dan opens the interview with this:

It would probably be easier to make a list of what Jodi Cleghorn doesn’t do than try to cover all the varied and exciting publishing related stuff she gets up to across the web. She is a founding publisher and editor with eMergent Publishing, the publishers of such short fiction goodies as the Chinese Whisperings anthologies and recent MLiSF guest Emma Newman’s debut collection From Dark Places. Most recently, Jodi has been the driving force behind two charity anthologies, 100 Stories for Queensland, a collection of flash fiction and Nothing But Flowers, a collection of apocalyptic visions inspired by the classic Talking Heads track

Jodi was awarded the Kris Hembury Encouragement Award over the weekend, which recognizes an emerging artist in the area of speculative fiction. On a personal note, she has been a constant source of encouragement and a provider of keen perspective when beta reading my work. I am in awe of Jodi’s energy and commitment to providing support for up and coming authors. And she tells damn good stories. Ladies and gents, it really is a great pleasure to present Jodi Cleghorn’s Life in Short Fiction.

While I’m still blushing crimson – head on over to hear me talk about Daniel Keyes, Ray Bradbury, Jack Marx and of course, Dan himself!