Friday, June 27, 2008

my writing week

Hi all,

I have been working longer hours this week so I haven't done much writing, just the barest minimum every day.

I am only 60 pages into the novel I am critiquing, I hope to read a bit more next week

Surprising how my hint count on my blogs went up last week as soon as I mentioned my Master of Creative Writing. Speaking of which, I was rung up yesterday by a research company wanting me to comment on the ACT Ombudsman's handling of my complaint against the Uni of Canberra. I told the researcher that I would have loved to be privy to the conversations between the uni and the ombudsman, and I didn't think the ombudsman was qualified to comment on some of the issues. In a fair world the university would have had some form of independent compliants proceedure and I would not have to had to bother the ombudsman.

This weekend I have the house to myself so I have decided to do a bit of a Homer Simpson so its time to slob off.

Friday, June 20, 2008

good bye to self censorship

Hi all,

I apologise for this post as it is probably going to wander all over the place, just like a rant usually does.

For the past few years I have been trying to intergrate myself into the Australian speculative fiction writing scene. I have been doing this for a few reasons: most importantly to learn what Australian writers are writing and getting published; secondly to learn more about writing speculative fiction, particulary science-fiction; and, as I am stuck out in the bush, the chance to just communicate with people who write speculative-fiction was also important.

I started by joining Eidolon, an Australian email based forum on speculative fiction which had a lot of published, semi-professional writers on it. This forum was fairly active when I began, but since just about spluttered to a halt. I joined Infinitas, a Sydney based critiquing group, but I never seem to be co-ordinated with their critiquing cycles. I joined Myspace, and found very few Aussie writers, so I joinned Facebook, there they all were. One of my facebook friends suggested Livejournal. I joined it and found a few Aussie writers.

I started a blog on myspace about things that concerned me, which, of course, included a fair bit on writing. I also ran the same blog on blogspot, primarily because there blogs looks so much better than the myspace blogs. I then decided to run the same blog on Livejournal. Here's where my self-censoring began, and hence the title of this blog.

I have become aware that the number of writers in the Australian Speculative Fiction field is tiny. So I didn't want to offend one of them or their mates. I am aware that many of them not only have had stories published in, but contribute to the editing of The Andromeda Inflight Spaceways Magazine. A magazine that, after reading the first four editions struck me as nowhere near the standard of Aurealis and Orb, too light, too much fantasy, too many meaningless stories. The fifth edition lies unread in a cupboard somewhere. Many of this small group of Aussie Speculative Fiction writers have been awarded or had something to do with the awarding of the Ditmars. Many of them have been published in anthologies that I have read, some good, some bad, but would a honest review offend them? Probably, I tell myself. The same as criticism of the way the Ditmar awards are decided on and the quality of the stories in Andromeda Inflight Spaceways Magazine would probably offend. Could these criticisms see it harder for me to be published in the small market in Australia? Possibly. I also sensed that most of the writers I interacted with were afraid to criticise the writing and publishing efforts of other members of the Australian spec fic community.

As my blog went onto Livejournal and could be perused by this small group of writers I found myself self-censoring. As of this week, I have decided to no longer blog on livejournal and use it a bit like googlereader: to link up with journals with something interesting and informative to say about writing - which from past experience comes from the literary agents and publishers. Where they will fearlessly answer my sometime niave, sometimes arrogant questions.

Now back to my original quest to intergrate myself into the Aussie Speculative fiction scene. I've learnt a little about Australian novels and stories and publishing avenues, but I am now wondering, is that the best way to go? The novels written by Australians, for the most part, fail in comparison to overseas authors. Is that because of a small, insular Australian writing community. There are exceptions like George Turner, Damien Broderick, Sean McMullen, Sean Williams and others (note I have only read a fraction of what has been written - an upcoming post will list these and how I rate them). I am now thinking, it might have been better to concentrate on reading the lastest novels coming out from overseas spec fic writers, like the wonderful novel "The Future Happens Twice," by Matt Browne and concentrating on reading magazines of the quality of Analog and Asimov (which I have already started to do).

From these various forums and journals and networking sites, I would say I have gleaned only a fraction of the helpful information about writing and getting published that I have read on literary agent blogs and from critiquing on the American website Critters.

The most beneficial aspect of being part of my attempts to intergrate myself into the Australian spec fic circle has been meeting a few people, mostly on the fringes, who I have enjoyed interacting with.

So, basically I am thinking that it is time to look for forums and blogs and journals by overseas spec fiction writers who might be more forthright, as they don't have to worry about offending a small group of fellow writers. The Australian spec fic scene reminds me a bit of the students doing my Masters at the Uni of Canberra, most of them seemed too scared of offending to write worthwhile critiques. I remember reading the George Turner thought the quality of criticism of speculative fiction in Australia was appalling, resulting in pretty average speculative fiction being published here.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My blogs.

Hi all,

I have been running the same blog on Myspace (for over a year) Blogspot (for about six months and Livejournal (a few months), and I have decided that’s not working. At the moment I have two competing aims, one is to communicate with science-fiction readers, who have no ambitions to be writers, while the other is to network with writers, particularly those who are at a similar stage of writing to mine.

As most of the people I am networking with on Livejournal are writers, I have decided to cut back on my entries there and just read it for a while, maybe making a comment every now and then. While at Myspace and Blogspot I will continue to comment with the naivety of someone who loves speculative fiction and wishes everyone read more of it.

And for those of you reading this on myspace and blogspot, basically I get the impression that the Australian speculative fiction community is very small and its members have very long memories.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Writing Week

Hi all,

Nearly half way through the year and still, I estimate, only nearly half-way through the first draft of the novel I am writing. Hopefully, now that I am back using broadband, I will spend less time waiting for emails and facebook applications to appear and more time writing.

I think I have finally broken my new computer in, although I have a feeling that Office XP will be flashing a message at me in about forty days saying that it is no longer active because I have installed it on two machines. Originally I thought the software could only be installed on one machine - my old computer - but it seemed to let me install it and activate it on my new computer. I have Open Office - a free clone of MS Office - as a back-up if XP starts to complain.

So with broadband saving me time and no more software and hardware to install and register, I wrote more than usual this week. I even had one of those sessions when writing didn't feel like a hard slog. I love those days. But isn't writing supposed to be a muse-run, fun-filled, extended burst of creative energy I hear you ask. Nope, not for me. I feel validated everytime I read about a successful author who finds writing a hard slog, like Nam Le, the Vietnamese born Australian author who is getting big raps for his short story collection "The Boat".

I sorted through the pile of articles from newspapers and the net on my desk and found one that I had ripped out of the AGE referring to a competition for a Young Adult novel of at least 25,000 words run by Text Publishing. The winner gets a contract and a $10,000 advance. I am suprised that Text is having such a competition because I thought that if any genre of Australian fiction was doing well it was Young Adult. I wonder what Text's attitude to speculative fiction is. Anyway, the competition closes on the 30th August so it can be announced at the Melbourne Writer's Festival.

I have read a few chapters of the novel I am critiquing. I worry about the info dumps in it because a large proportion of the first few chapters is background information. The information is interesting and entertaining, but I think I am going to have to start asking: is it necessary to move the plot forward?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Technology's gonna save us

Hi all,

As I get around to making an appointment to get a wisdom tooth extracted, I wish I lived in an age where nano-dentistry existed. Where nano-machines mingled with the bacteria in my mouth to destroy any plaque and cleaned out and fill in any decaying teeth, molecule by molecule.

I hope to be around at the other side of the coming technology spike or singularity, where a combination of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotechnology will totally change what it means to be human. As it is, in my more negative moments, I think I’ll miss it and the last years of my life will be lived in a word ravaged by the consequences of global warming, where I, like the billions of others, will spend all my time trying to scrap the resources together to eat. Nanotechnology has the potential to fix global warming: nano-swarms could deconstruct the carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.

Only a couple of months ago I read an article by a right-winger, Chris Berg, in the Age gloating on how the dire predictions of an over-populated world in the 1970’s book “The Population Bomb” never came to fruition, a month later and I was reading about food riots and food crisis in 30 countries. Last night on the news Ethiopia was again suffering famine – although I think its government is mostly to blame for its current predicament. I am hopeful that genetic engineering will create salt and drought resistance crops to help feed us while the climate changes. Maybe someone will discover a gene that stops people from overeating too.

In the shorter term I hope that SETI is finally successful and we learn that there are other civilisations out there. I doubt if we will ever get to greet them in person, because I don’t think faster than light travel will ever eventuate and worm-holes are just the stuff of scientific theory. It would be great to know that other civilisations survived becoming civilised, so perhaps we could too.

In the immediate term, with the current petrol crisis, I hope Rudd starts to encourage the conversion of cars to natural gas in a big way. Australia has heaps of the stuff and the infrastructure to get it into cars. Gas also has the advantage of producing a lot less greenhouse gasses. Using natural gas instead of importing oil will also help fix our rapidly increasing foreign debt.

Unlike many, I am a person who believes technology might actually save us and I am becoming increasingly annoyed at what I perceive to be ignorant fear campaigns against things like GM foods and genetic engineering. The anti-gm foods lobby’s major argument seems to be fear of the unknown (where the unknown comes from lack of research on the part of the fearer).

I’d be interested to hear what readers others hope to see technology do in their life times.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Writing Week

Hi all,

Let's get the excuses for not writing much out of the way first. I bought a new computer and consequently spent a bit of time installing software, creating backups and downloading updates. I then rejoined the broadband world, after being on dial-up for a while.

My new monitor is 19 inch and many of the pages of the interactive story on my webpage are rendered unreadable when the page is stretched over a large screen, so I spent a while fixing up my webpage:

While doing some research for a previous post, I saw Conjure, a science fiction convention, was being held in Melbourne this weekend. I checked out the program and couldn't really find anything that I thought would be of great benefit to my writing. Perhaps a bit of interaction with other writers and fans of science fiction would be beneficial, but I decided not to go. From the point of view of writing, I think I have gotten all I can out of writing festivals where the focus is on the end product and not the writing process.

I still managed to write every day, woohoo, but the author of the novel I am critiquing won't be happy with my lack of progress - I must get in to it next week. I did very little reading of anything but instructions in computer manuals and on computer screens this week.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Speculative fiction awards

Hi all,

Do readers of speculative fiction care about the many awards that are given to speculative fiction books every year? When they hear a book has won a Ditmar or Nebula award do they rush out and buy it? Does Hugo or Aurealis award winner on the cover of a book make the casual browser more likely to buy it? Or are they more like the contestants on American Jeopardy the other night who had no idea what the Hugo award was for?

While perusing the shelves in the local book shop a few years ago "George Turner Award Winner" caused me to purchase a book - I am a fan of George Turner's writing. The book was a disappointment, but I did enjoy reading another of the winners of that award in Michelle Marquardt's Blue Silence. Note: The George Turner award was for the best manuscript by an unpublished Australian speculative fiction writer and, as far as I know, was only presented three times.

Speaking of George Turner, I think his Arthur C. Clarke awarded "Sea and the Summer" is the best science fiction novel I have read. I went out of my way to find one particularly famous Ditmar winning novel only to be disappointed. I thought it the weakest of that particular writer's novels I had read. After hearing Margaret Attwood's Oryx and Crake was shortlisted for the booker I went and purchased it. It's a great book from an author whose words just flow off the page.

There are three Australian awards for speculative fiction that I am aware of: the Ditmars, the Aurealis Awards and the Tin Ducks. The 2007 Ditmars are to be voted on at this weekend's Conjure convention in Melbourne by anyone who pays to become a member or associate member. How many of them would have read all the books nominated in a category? How many would just vote for the one book they have read? Or for a friend? It wouldn't be a shock if a Melbourne author won. I looked at the nominated books and, to my surprise, I had read one, but I would not vote for it. If I had the time and inclination to go the convention, perhaps I would just vote to place it last. The Aurealis awards have more credibility to me because they are voted on by a panel of three judges, who I assume read all the nominated works. The Tin Ducks are limited to books published by Western Australian Writers – so the competition is smallish.

I thought the Hugo was the biggest and most prestigious speculative fiction award, but then I read that it too is decided by the participants of a science-fiction convention. The 2008 award will be voted on by people who attend this year's Denvention. Again, how many of those who vote will have read all the nomination books? The Nebula award is voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Ditto to the previous criticism, but at least there would be a much larger voter base than for the Ditmars, so there is more chance that the best books would attract votes.

I am left with the feeling that speculative fiction awards seem to have very dubious value.