Snapshot 2016: Peter M Ball

Peter M. Ball’s first published SF story appeared in Dreaming Again back in 2007, and since then his short fiction has appeared in publications such as Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Interfictions II, Eclipse Four, Shimmer, and Years Best SF 15. He’s the author of five novellas, the convenor of the biennial GenreCon writer’s conference, and spends far too much time tweeting about Conan and pro-wrestling. He lives in Brisbane, and can be found online atwww.petermball.com and on twitter @petermball.

Your most recent work has been a series of three novellas, Exile, Frost and Crusade, collected as the Flotsam trilogy. Can you tell us something about these novellas, and the process of writing them and having them published?

Flotsam got its start when I was doing my honours degree on the Gold Coast and spending two years examining the connection between poetics and place. The Gold Coast is a damned weird place to live, particularly if you’re not interested in the beach, and it feels very temporary. People are constantly moving to and from the city – no-one ever seemed to be from the Gold Coast, originally – and the tourist strip is constantly rebuilding itself.

And yet, when you live there long-term, you discover all these small communities that exist beneath that. There was a surprisingly engaged arts community on the Gold Coast, setting up performance venues and exhibitions in the industrial states and old buildings. Very chaotic, very close-knit, and easily overlooked if you walked past the venues without knowing what was there.

The similarities between those communities and the kind of secret, supernatural communities that tend to exist in most urban fantasy novels wasn’t lost on me, and it occurred to me that the Gold Coast would be the ideal place to live if you were a vampire or a demon or a long-forgotten god looking for a place to hide out. This was in 2003 or so, long before I’d ever thought about writing speculative fiction, but I put down a couple of hundred words about Norse gods hiding out on the Coast in an effort to avoid Ragnarök and promptly did nothing with it.

Eight years later, I dug those notes out and rebuilt the idea into a serialised version of Flotsam that appeared at the Edge of Propinquity. And, literally the day the editor Jennifer Brozek said “yes, we’ like the pitch,” things started to go wrong: my dad had a heart attack; my work situation changed dramatically; my health was slowly deteriorating for reasons I wouldn’t understand until 2015. And so, the year that I thought I’d spend with a certain amount of writing time suddenly became quite constrained. I struggled with the deadlines, again and again, which frustrated me to no end. None of the stories were as well-connected as I’d wanted them to be, when I started the pitch, and I was haunted by the idea that I could have done better.

So, when Jennifer started Apocalypse Ink and asked if I’d be interested in redoing the series as a novella trilogy, I leapt at the chance to revisit the story and fix all the things that had bugged me the first time around. The result is a very different story, with a much stronger film-noir influence, but it’s much closer to the story I’d hoped to write the first time around.

You have written several novellas, as well as many pieces of short fiction. Do you prefer shorter formats over longer length works? Do you feel like the novella is a type of work that has become more popular in speculative fiction over the last few years, and do you have any thoughts on why that could be?

I’m not sure the novella was ever unpopular in speculative fiction – the history of speculative fiction is filled with brilliant novelettes, novellas, and short novels that are part of the common language of the genre. All that’s changed is where we’re seeing those works published, and that’s largely representative of the way publishing itself is changing. Ebooks and print on demand technology changes the business model, which means its slightly more viable to publish a novella as a stand-alone product rather than packaging it in collection or magazine. Suddenly we’re more conscious of that cool novella I just read, rather than that cool longer story in that book of stories I really enjoyed.

But I do love the novella and the novelette as a form, and have done before I ever knew the words to describe them. They walk a balancing act between the brevity of a short story and the narrative complexity of a novel, and that always appeals to me as both a reader and a writer. The novella also allows for the opportunity to take chances with style and content – I still remember the excitement of reading Dirk Flinthart’s crime novella, Brotherly Love, for the first time when I was eighteen, and it was a near-perfect book in terms of delivering an off-beat set of concepts in a short, sharp package.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

My next major project isn’t fiction based – at the moment I’m in the midst of planning for the next GenreCon, which will take place in late 2017. There are very few things I enjoy as much as writing, but convening the first three GenreCons and creating a space for writers to talk about the business and craft of what they do, is one of the most satisfying gigs I’ve ever had.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I think I mentioned my fierce love of Anne Gracie’s regency novels in the last snapshot, and that hasn’t changed. Except now, when I go to an SF con, I spend a lot more time gathered together with the other Gracie fans in the corner of the bar, getting far nerdier about the romance genre than I ever was about SF. The Summer Bride has just come out, and I am ridiculously excited about this book.

Sticking with the romance theme, I’m also a huge fan of the first book in Kylie Scott’s Dive-Bar series, Dirty. I have learned I cannot start a Scott book after ten o’clock at night, because I will just keep reading until it’s six AM and the sun is coming up.

On the speculative fiction front, my I’ve been rapidly won over by Sean William’s Jump, Gary Kemble’s Bad Blood, and Kate Forsyth’s The Rebirth of Rapunzel.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Oh, god, no-one. I am a terrible person to sit next to on long flights, and I wouldn’t wish that on any writer. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the writers I really admire were quite abominable human beings to be around for any length of time. Can you imagine being stuck on a long-distance flight with a drunk Raymond Chandler, or an incredibly pithy Oscar Wilde just cutting loose on those around him?

That said, I’d quite like to have a long chat with Joe Lonsdale about his work, after working my way through his short story collections earlier this year. He seems to drift effortlessly between genres, has an incredible sense of precision in terms of his narrative voice, and there’s always something pleasingly off-beat about his work. And there are any number of writer-friends I don’t get to see all that often, who I’d leap at the chance to catch up with…

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This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

Snapshot 2016: Amanda Pillar

image1Amanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith.
Amanda has had numerous short stories published and has co-edited the fiction anthologies
Voices(2008), Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes(2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar(2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012). Her first solo anthology was published by Ticonderoga Publications, titled Bloodstones (2012). The sequel, Bloodlines, was published in 2015.
Amanda’s first novel,
Graced, was published by Momentum in 2015. 
In her day job, she works as an archaeologist.
 
 
Your most recent work is Survivor, a novella in the same universe as your novel Graced. The main character of Survivor is a woman who has been traumatised and lives with a resultant physical disability. Can you tell us something about how you approached disability and trauma in this work?
When I started to work on the Graced universe, I wanted it to represent a wide range of people – different races, different backgrounds, image2and different levels of ableness. Billie (one of the main characters) came to me with her disability – a broken and badly healed hip caused by physical trauma.
I have friends and family who have been affected by various mobility issues, and drew on their experience (and my own) to ensure that Billie was well-rounded as a character. I wanted Billie to be Billie, and not a representation of disability.  I was also able to use some personal experience as to how it might feel to have a damaged hip, as I injured mine during a trek on the Inca Trail. I know the pain of stairs when you can barely lift your leg!
As well as being a writer, you’re an editor, and have edited several anthologies, including Bloodlines from Ticonderoga Press, which recently won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection. How do you approach editing anthologies, in terms of story selection and working with authors? Are there any tips you can give people who are thinking of working as editors as well as writers?
When I develop the idea for a collection, I have a vague idea of what I would like to see from authors. But authors often surprise me and send me stories I didn’t even consider fitting with the theme! (I love it when that happens.) But the main things I look for are:
– The story is well-written
– The story has a plot
– The story is on theme
– The story explores new ideas or new takes
Once I’ve worked out which stories work best with the theme, I then have to decide which of those work best together. An anthology is a book, and needs to feel cohesive. Some stories may be fantastic, but if they don’t work with the others, or duplicate certain ideas (e.g. If it’s a monster story and there’s two Godzillas, for example) then I have to pick which one works best in the whole.
For people who want to get into editing, the biggest advice I can give is: Don’t rewrite someone’s work how YOU would have written it. That isn’t editing. Editing is bringing out the best of the story in line with the author’s voice, tone and goal.
What work do you have planned for the future? Can we expect to see more in the Graced universe?
Yes! I plan to write more in the Graced series and I have a the sequel novel drafted! But I have also just started working on a new series, as well. A dark urban fantasy with romance elements 🙂
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Cleverman! I just started this series, but I’m loving it. I’m a sucker for superheroes, and I really enjoy seeing Aussie talent on TV!
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Ohh, this isn’t easy. It would probably change on any given day. Today, I reckon Oscar Wilde. He’d be a blast to hang around with – he’d probably drink the minibar dry.
snaphotlogo2016This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

Snapshot 2016: Ian Mond

Ian Mond podcasts a little too much these days.  If he’s not travelling vast distances for the latest episode of The Writer and the Critic with his co-host Kirstyn McDermott, or sitting in a granny flat and arguing with Dave Hoskin and Mitch about all things pop culture for an episode of Shooting the Poo, he’s pacing up and down his bedroom as he discusses the finer points of a new release novel with Jonathan Strahan, James Bradley and sometimes Gary K Wolfe (and even Nike Sulway) for an episode of the Coode Street Roundtable.  Other than that he posts stuff on Facebook and now, less frequently, on his blog The Hysterical Hamster.  

 Over the past year or so, you’ve been spending a lot of time reading through novels which have been shortlisted for awards and reviewing them. How has the experience of that been? Is there anything you’ve seen that the works tend to have in common? Have you come across works that you’ve been surprised to not see on awards shortlists?

Because my tastes are eclectic I have trouble deciding on the next thing to watch or read.  As a result I come up with these insane little projects that, by their nature, remove the need to choose.  Cue awards lists.  Why should I worry about what to read next when there’s so many genre awards out there willing to do all the work for me.  It’s a win / win proposition.  I avoid the anxiety of choosing while at the same time reading those novels purported to be the best genre and literary fiction over a given year.

And last year it was fun reading through more than 20 shortlists.  I can’t say I gained any great understanding of the type of book that was being nominated, there was no commonality that leapt up and slapped me in the face, but I was exposed to works and ideas I wouldn’t have bothered with in the past.  There’s no way I would have picked up Ali Smith’s How To Be Both or Rabih Alameddine’s, An Unnecessary Woman or Karen E Bender’s short story collection Refund if not for my slavish devotion to shortlists.  Note the literary bias.  If there’s one thing that became clear over 2015 it’s that my tastes have drifted away from core genre.  It’s not that I’ve jettisoned genre fiction, but a recognition that I’d rather read books nominated for a Shirley Jackson or Kitschie Award then a Hugo or a Nebula. 

This year, though, I made the decision to appreciably cut down the number of shortlists.  I realised that while it did reduce my anxiety levels to have other people choose books for me, I didn’t have time to read those handful of novels that I wanted to read.  So this year I’ve halved the number of shortlists and I’ll probably cull a few more next year.

I was surprised that that Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson didn’t feature on more lists.  I was certain it would get a Nebula nod.  And I was also surprised that Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings wasn’t nominated for a World Fantasy Award this year.  It’s a fantastic book and I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel due out in a couple of months.

You and Kirstyn McDermott are the co-hosts of The Writer and the Critic podcast, which has also recently launched a Patreon campaign. How has the experience been of creating such a podcast? Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own podcasts or Patreon campaigns?

The experience of creating the podcast has been wonderful, mostly because Kirstyn does all the work.  She edits and produces the podcast, she writes the show notes and she also organised the Patreon campaign.  The biggest thing I have to do, other than read the books and sound vaguely coherent about them while we’re recording, is make the 135 kilometre trip from my house to hers.  It’s now been more than five years and 50 episodes and it’s been a total blast.

Given how little I do I feel a bit silly providing advice.  I’m not sure I’d be brave enough, like a Terry Frost, to podcast on my own.  So if you have zero technical knowledge but a burning need to tell the world  about… I don’t know… your love for all things Rutger Hauer, then find someone with the same Rutger loving passion and then get them to do all the work.

Kirstyn is going to kill me.  She’s also started leaving secret messages in the podcast because she knows I don’t listen to the episodes…

What can we expect from you in the future?

In terms of podcasting, Writer and the Critic will continue for the foreseeable future, which, for our Patreon fans, is probably a relief.

And after a medium-ish hiatus Shooting The Poo – the podcast I host with Dave Hoskin and Mitch – will be back with all new episodes.  We have at least three… or is it four… in the can. 

Finally, in a bid to force me to read books published this year Jonathan Strahan, James Bradley and I (with sometimes guest Gary K. Wolfe and Nike Sulway) started the Coode Street Roundtable in January.  We review one new release novel per episode.

Which Australian work have you loved recently?

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay is astonishingly good.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

It has to be Stephen King.  I know, I know… boring and predictable, but before Stephen King all I really read was Doctor Who novelisations (Terrance Dicks would be second on my list of people to sit next to).  King didn’t just open me up to a world of horror and dark fantasy but also for a deep love of reading – no matter the genre.

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This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

Snapshot 2016: Trent Jamieson

Trent PIC (1)
Trent Jamieson is a bookseller, occasional sessional academic,  and multi-award winning novelist and short story writer. His latest novel, Day Boy, won the  Aurealis Awards for best Fantasy and best Horror novel published in 2015.
 
 

 

 

 

 

Your most recent novel, Day Boy, won Aurealis Awards for Best Horror Novel and Best Fantasy Novel. Can you tell us something about the process of writing that novel and having it published? How did it feel to collect two best novel awards for it?

Most of my writing takes a long time, there’s plenty of missteps and stumbles. And Day Boy was no exception. It started as a short story published in 2008 (and shortlisted for best horror short story in the Aurealis Awards) and I always felt that it had enough to be become a novel – even though I thought it worked pretty well as a short, I like stories that leave plenty of space, and questions unanswered.  But it took me nearly six years – and many false starts – to find the shape of that novel. In my defence I also published five novels in that time.  

I’ve pretty much come around to the idea that, in most cases, if I come up with something worth writing, regardless of the length, it’s going to take a while. I get a feeling with most of my work that it will be finished at some stage – I just never know when that will be (though about seven years for a novel seems about right). Luckily, I work of lots of things at once.

The next three books I’d like to see published (if the winds of publishing are blowing my way) are all at least four years old. I just kick off with a story and keep swimming until I reach the end of the pool – some of those pools are just very, very long.

Day Boy meant a lot to me. It’s a little darker and more serious than my earlier work, maybe a little closer to my short stories, so I was delighted that it won two best novel awards. If it’s going to be the only time I ever win an award for a book – which it probably will be – then I am very happy that it is that one.

 

You’ve had novels published with a several publishers, both overseas and Australian publishers. Has the experience of publishing with an Australian publisher differed when compared to an overseas publisher? Do you have any advice for authors seeking to publish novels, with either Australian or foreign publishers?

I’ve enjoyed all my experiences with publishers. I was very lucky with Orbit (on the Death Works Books) to work with some wonderful and thorough editorial folk. My publisher at Orbit Australia Bernadette Foley was a delight, she pushed me with a clear eye and a great sense of story and I respond very well to that kind of editorial. I found my major issue with Angry Robot who published Roil and Night’s Engines was simply the distance and, I think, I kind of had a bit of melt down – I don’t think those books were as good as they could have been, but that’s my fault entirely – I was basically putting one series down and picking up another without any real break while teaching and bookselling, and, while some people thrive in that environment, I really didn’t. I may multi-task my stories, but I do it slowly. I hit my deadlines but the work suffered.

Text has been wonderful too, Mandy Brett is simply a great editor – who pushed me, and helped me get the best book I could write. I found the editorial process on Day Boy a delight, and a challenge – but in the best way. Honestly, my experiences with publishers has always been pretty good – maybe I’m just lucky.

As for advice, everyone’s experience of publishing is different. And, sometimes you don’t get a choice who will publish your book. Try and write the best book you can, and then think about who will help you deliver that book in the best possible way. Don’t overcommit – which is very hard.  If you can actually afford to make it over to the country that is publishing your book that is a very good thing too – I’ve never been able to, but I suspect that it may have helped – or maybe not.

Also, the moment you get a bite from a publisher (if not before) find yourself a damn good agent. Publishing is a pretty tough gig (so is writing, but that you can control) it pays to have someone on your side, working in your interest

 

Can we expect any work from you in the near future?

I’m still working on a draft of a novel called The Stone Road, I doubt it’ll see the light of day for another year or two, by which time I should have a new draft of a book called The House in Arbitrary finished too, and possibly a new Death Works novel – which has been sitting in MS form for a few years.

There are several novels stacked behind them, and a good dozen short stories. But I suspect I am going to be quiet for a while. Fortunately for me the delight is in the writing. The world doesn’t need another novel by me; I just need to write them.

 

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I’ve enjoyed Gary Kemble’s Harry Hendrick’s books – Bad Blood is the latest. Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward was great too. I’m so behind on my reading in the scene, but I’m looking forward to catching up on Angela Slatter, Ben Peek and Rjurick Davidson’s novels too.

 

 

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Ursula Le Guin, I wouldn’t even say a word. I just think we have been so lucky to have her in the world (and to still have her).

In fact, I don’t know if I would even want that. Sometimes it’s best to leave your heroes perfect and on the page. The older I get the less I really want to meet the authors I admire, I prefer their words where they should be. The transporting moment is always in the book; meeting them on a long plane trip wouldn’t bring out the best in either them or me.

Hmm, that really is a terrible sort of answer.

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This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

Snapshot: Jack Bridges

Jack Bridges(1)Jack Bridges publishes queer romance as Laney Cairo, and speculative fiction under his own name. He is best known for his medical romance novel, Bad Case of Loving You (written as Laney Cairo), which romps through raunchy sex, socialised medicine and the impacts of industrial action in the health care industry. For his day job, Jack teaches research methodology to university students. Jack can be found at www.jacklanebridges.com and www.laneycairo.com 

Congratulations on your Aurealis Awards short listing for Blood and Ink (for Best Science Fiction Novella). Would you like to share some of the inspiration for Blood and Ink, and how did it feel to be shortlisted for the award?

Thank you!

The settings for Blood and Ink are all local places I know well. The story sparked for me after walking through Jorgensen Park in blood and ink cover smallKalamunda, where smooth grey granite boulders lift up out of the red gravel soil and through the bushland. The boulders feel alive, when touched, as though they are breathing and moving, only on a timescale too huge for humans to notice. That was the initial ‘what if?’ forBlood and Ink, and I wrote the draft of the first section of the story standing up at a counter in the SF bookstore I used to work at. The story grew with time, acquiring new chapters, but it stayed firmly fixed in places I knew.

I was delighted to be short-listed for an Aurealis! Especially in the Science Fiction Novella category! I knew Blood and Ink was solid, but getting this kind of validation from a panel of judges was exhilarating. As primarily a romance writer, I’ve always felt a bit like my writing wasn’t quite as serious or as respectable as Real Science Fiction (implied scare quotes and all), and an Aurealis short-listing means I’m definitely respectable.

 

You write under two names, as Jack Bridges and Laney Cairo. You are also open about being a transgender writer. How do you feel that the exploration of the world of speculative fiction and the world of being transgender intersect? Do you feel that writing speculative fiction has been an aid in the your own journey to your identity? 

I didn’t actually want to be open about being trans*! It didn’t work out that way, in part because I love attending spec fic conventions and value the community I have found through them. The cost of privacy would have been giving up attending conventions and belonging to the spec fic community in Australia.

Oddly, perhaps, it’s not been spec fic writing that has been an important part of my identity journey, but romance writing. There’s an entire decade of my life, at least, where the keyboard and screen have been the way I tested out the possibilities of how I might live. And the possibilities I explored through writing weren’t fantastic or technological, necessarily, but relationship-based.

I can see strong connections between transhumanism and being trans*. Being trans* is punitively expensive, in more than cash. It has health costs and career costs and personal costs. If I’m willing to give informed consent to these costs and go ahead and modify my body radically in order to be happy, or at least, less sad, then other people also get to change their physical form too, in all sorts of ways that are recreational or functional or experimental, in pursuit of more efficient function, or longer life, or more fun. And maybe those changes are going to be so profound that they stop being human.

 

What are your plans for future works? 

I’m continuing to write romance fiction, mostly short stories, and all exploring gender and gender performance.

 

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I’ve mostly been reading unpublished manuscripts recently. The next wave of Australian romance writers is incredibly talented. I’ve been overawed by the standard of the writing and the freshness of the stories.

For published work, I’m currently reading Newt’s Emerald, by Garth Nix, and it’s making me ridiculously happy by meeting both my Regency romance needs and being a delightful fantasy adventure.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Ellen Kushner. I’ve met Ellen a few times at spec fic conventions, and would love the chance to have a long chat with her about her work (as long as she was okay with talking, and didn’t want to just be silent). Ellen’s novel Swordspoint remains one of my all time favourites, a beautifully realised alternate history/fantasy of manners with queer characters. I am so pleased that Ellen, and other people, are continuing to write in the Swordspoint universe.
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This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

Snapshot 2016: Elizabeth Fitzgerald

Elizabeth Fitzgerald is a freelance editor and owner of Earl Grey Editing. She runs a book blog (www.earlgreyediting.com.au/blog) and is serving out her fourth term as the Secretary of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. An unabashed roleplayer and reader of romance, her weaknesses are books, loose-leaf tea and silly dogs. She tweets @elizabeth_fitz

In terms of the speculative fiction scene in Australia, you have your fingers in several pies – you’re a writer, you’ve edited anthologies, you offer an editing service, you work on collating links regularly of interest to writers, readers and publishers, and you are a reviewer. What was it that drew to you all of these different pursuits? Do you find that all of these different facets of your career work together harmoniously, or can it be difficult to, say, be both an editor and a writer?

I tend to view all these different activities as part of the same thing: my abiding love for books. For the most part, I find they work well together. Reviewing helps me as a writer to remain aware of current trends in publishing and offers great opportunities to network with authors and publishers. Likewise, my writer self would be collating links anyway by gathering resources on writing and looking out for publishing opportunities. Offering them to readers of my blog works on a selfish level by drawing in more traffic while also helping to support the community.

There are a couple of places where these facets work against each other to the detriment of my writing. The first is my inner editor and critic make it increasingly difficult to write. I take forever, overthink everything and rarely manage to finish anything. I recently had the opportunity to write some material for Wyrd Games’ role-playing game Through the Breach. It was pure world-building, a sort of creative non-fiction. I was surprised to find it easier than story writing. I think there were a few reasons for this: the deadline meant I had no time to overthink things; I was working within strict parameters which kept me focussed; and the format made me slightly less concerned with writing style.

The other problem with having all these difference facets is time. It’s a lot to juggle. Anything connected to other people or my professional persona gets priority, which generally puts writing last.

However, I love doing all of it and especially enjoy promoting Australian books to an international audience.

As someone who writes, works as an editor and reviews books, what are your opinions on authors who also review books? Would you like to see more authors reviewing books, or do you feel that it’s something that authors should stay away from?

I don’t see a problem with authors reviewing books, provided they approach the practice sensibly and sensitively. Yes, authors may come with biases—particularly in relation to friends and contacts in the industry or to aspects of storytelling. But reviewers and book bloggers have their own biases, for example favourite authors and tropes they hate.

The key thing about reviewing is that it works best through transparency. A good reviewer (no matter their background) will state these biases so that the reader can figure out how to interpret the review. This means explaining how I acquired the book and my connection to the author or publisher, where applicable. It also means stating where plot or character elements didn’t work for me; I might not enjoy love triangles, but other readers adore them.

I’ve not had any really negative experiences of reviewing books where I’ve known one or more of the contributors. However, I’m aware it can be a difficult line to walk. On one hand, I strongly believe I have an allegiance to the reader. On the other hand, I’m also aware that my reviews could potentially impact on my relationships with other people in the industry. I try to be as fair and as transparent as possible. I won’t shy away from being critical (though it sometimes makes me feel a bit guilty if I know the author). Having said that, I’m not a fan of scathing reviews, be they from other authors or reviewers. If I can’t find at least one good thing—however small—about a book, I won’t review it.

It can be tricky to balance, so I can understand why authors might shy away from reviewing.

Do you have any plans for upcoming projects?

Nothing concrete at the moment. This year I’m a judge for the Aurealis Awards. Juggling the reading schedule for that with my review schedule and freelance work is keeping me busy at the moment. I do have a couple of stories on the backburner that I’d like to finish off. I’d also love to edit another anthology at some point in the future. I feel I’ve learned a lot since I published Winds of Change.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

There are many! My favourite series at the moment is Juliet Marillier’s Blackthorn and Grim. It’s a historical fantasy about an imprisoned healer who is offered the chance to magically escape on the condition she spends a year accepting any request for help people ask of her. I love that the protagonist is an older woman and that her experiences have led her to be an outspoken opponent of injustice and violence against women. I also love the strong, yet platonic friendship between Blackthorn and Grim, her former prison mate. They are sensitive to each other’s traumas and do their best to protect each other. I can’t wait for the third book, Den of Wolves, to come out in November.

C.S. Pacat impressed me with the conclusion to her Captive Prince trilogy earlier this year. Being a m/m romance with BDSM elements, it’s breaking new ground for the big publishing houses. I thought it balanced the romance perfectly with a strong political fantasy plot, and it shows Pacat to be an intelligent and subtle writer. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

I’ve also been enjoying Amanda Pillar’s urban fantasy series Graced, with the most recent novella being Survivor. Like Pacat, she does a good job of balancing fantasy adventure with romance. I particularly appreciate the thought she’s put into her world-building, mixing her fantasy with judicious servings of sci-fi. She’s also built up a great cast of characters I’m looking forward to hearing more about.

I regret to admit I’m a late-comer to the work of Jennifer Fallon. Her most recent novel, The Lyre Thief, was excellent, so I’ll definitely be going back to tackle her earlier novels. I appreciate an epic fantasy where the characters aren’t entirely likeable but that also steers clear of being grimdark.

 The presence of hope was also one of the things I loved about the anthology Defying Doomsday, edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench. It’s a book of post-apocalyptic stories featuring chronically ill or disabled protagonists. The anthology actively steered away from inevitably delivering these characters tragic endings. Instead, the character’s disability or illness ended up being a key component in their survival in many cases, even allowing them to be agents of positive change.

 Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Diana Wynne Jones. Her Fire and Hemlock is one of my favourite books and she wrote such a wonderful range of material. All the accounts I’ve heard tell me she was a kind and generous person. I’d love the chance to chat about books, writing and folklore with her.

Snapshot: Deborah Kalin

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Deborah Kalin is an award-winning writer of literary speculative fiction, author of the collection Cherry Crow Children and of The Binding novels.

 
Cherry Crow Children won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novella and Best YA Short Story, and was shortlisted for two further Aurealis Awards, the Ditmar Awards, and the Australian Shadows Awards. Her work touches on the human heart, monsters, desperation and doggedness; her stories deliver richly conceived and compelling worlds peopled by deeply human characters.
 
She lives in Melbourne, subject to the whims of a three year old who thinks she’s a cat and a cat who thinks she’s a person. Both of them whinge, mostly about sleep and food. Kalin herself hasn’t slept uninterrupted through the night since March 2012.
 
 
Your most recent work is Cherry Crow Children, part of the Twelve Planets series brought out by Twelfth Planet Press, which ccc_au_399x657has garnered several awards nominations, both for individual stories and for the whole collection, as well as won two Aurealis Awards and had a story from the collection nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. How was the process of writing and collating this collection? How does it feel to have so much recognition for it?

 

To answer the latter first: so gratifying and amazing! Honestly, the critical response was overwhelming: I think in the end it garnered about 12 nominations for various awards, and every story got a nod somewhere. I was so proud of this collection, when I finally submitted it; and to have people not only enjoying it but nominating it for official recognition is a literal dream come true.

Not least because the process of writing it … well! I’ve blogged and spoken in depth about how difficult a journey it was. Suffice to say it turns out every thing people tell you about life with a newborn is true, and then some. But for me, I think what I found hardest was the utter lack of alone time. Writing is heavily tied in to solitude for me. The stories themselves I can write in half-hour snatches, but to come up with a story I need swathes of thinking time.

On top of that, these stories were difficult because they each opened a deep vein. In one way or another, I identified strongly with each of my characters, and putting them through the narratives that formed around them was harrowing. I have never been so glad to finish anything, as I was to finally submit this collection!

 

You have also written two novels, Shadow Queen and Shadow Bound.  How does the process of writing a novel differ for you from writing a short story? Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to move from short story writing to novel writing (or vice versa)?

 

I think I might be a terrible person to ask for advice on writing short stories! The opening story in CCC, The Wages of Honey, stood at about 10k when I submitted it, and Alisa asked me for three more “about the same length”. I think Briskwater Mare came in at 12k, and the next two were around the 20k mark each. I’m dreadful at writing short! In fact, my two novels are essentially one book/story that I split in half at a resolution point (with cliffhanger) for saleability purposes. So I can’t even write novels to length.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, for me, there’s little difference in terms of raw process: I still have to include all the same ingredients (character, conflict, setting, tension, resolution, etc). But there’s far less space in a short story, so I do find more of the backstory and/or research isn’t allowed on the page. And because there’s so little space and so much to fit in there, I do tend to agonise over word choice and sentence structure more. Not that I don’t with novels, as well, but it’s possible to hold the entirety of a 20k word story in your head all at once, which does make for a more cohesive editing process. Novels you have to wing it and trust your editors far more.

As for advice on moving between the two forms: I think that’s going to be very specific for each individual. The two lengths will impose different constraints and restrictions and freedoms, obviously; but how that translates to any given writer will be unique. For me, world building and characterisation as an integral/organic part of that world is a huge part of my stories; I think that’s why I struggle to write short, since there really isn’t that much room for atmosphere in a short, not if you want to have character and plot as well. So I guess my advice would be to know what you like best in your own writing, and edit yourself and/or give yourself a break accordingly.

 

What work can we expect from you in the future?

 

I’m currently trying (around a toddler and a day job and the Melbourne commute) to write what I’m calling the troll novel. It appears to be about family, identity, possession and fertility; and it’s heavily inspired by my trip to Iceland. Because I write without an outline, I suspect I won’t know entirely what it’s about until the zero draft is written, but at this stage it looks to be full of moss and frustration and anguish. (So, business as usual?)

 

Which Australian work have you loved recently?

Ooh, this is my favourite part!

Recent highlights include Leanne Hall’s “Iris and the Tiger” and Meg McKinlay’s “A Single Stone”.

The former has the perfect amount of whimsy and light-heartedness to put a piece of sunshine in your soul; I’ve been recommending it to everyone I can.

The latter is a delicately thought through story examining the constraints of environment on a society and the inevitable consequences of perception and interpretation being stretched over generations, all in one swift read. There’s a reason this one’s been winning lots of awards!

 

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

 

Goodness! Well, setting aside the fact I’m pretty sure there’s a distinct circle of hell devoted entirely to being trapped next to someone too chatty on a long plane flight, given my ‘druthers it would definitely be Jane Austen. She had such an eye for the human heart, and a deep-rooted empathy combined with a sharp wit. I don’t love everything she wrote, but of the ones I do love (Pride & Prejudice, and Persuasion), I love so deeply I can’t hear a word against them.

This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

 

2016 Snapshot: Martin Livings

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MartinLivingsPerth-based writer Martin Livings has had over eighty short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and was nominated for both the Aurealis and Ditmar awards, and has since been republished by Cohesion Press.

http://www/martinlivings.com

 

 

 

 

CarniesYour most recent project is a re-release of your novel, Carnies, first published by Lothian Books and now published by Cohesion Press. How has the experience been having a novel re-released? How have the two publication experiences differed? Is it something you would recommend to other authors, if they’re given the chance?This is a hard question to answer.  I think in my particular case, the main difference in how the experiences have differed has been in the medium; when Carnies was first (reluctantly) published by Hachette Livre, it was entirely physical, and I could find copies of it in bookstores, which was a huge buzz for a fledgling novellist.  This time around, with a much smaller but more enthusiastic publisher in Cohesion Press, the run is primarily electronic, with only a few Print on Demand copies floating around.  I don’t even have one myself, I gave my copies away!  But it was never really about the books on shelves; for me the biggest attraction in having Carnies re-released was the opportunity to do some re-writing, correct a few of the issues I had with the original manuscript. I’m so much happier with this version of the story, and look at the boxes of copies of the first release I still have with something approaching regret.  Maybe I can build a bookcase out of them…

You have had a lot of short stories published, garnering many awards nominations and wins, as well as having several of them collected in Living With the Dead. How does the process of writing a short story work for you? Do you have any advice for new writers seeking to break into publishing short stories?

I’m one of those writers that does everything wrong when it comes to writing short stories, so I’m really not much use to new writers except as a cautionary tale.  I don’t write every day, I don’t finish everything I start, I don’t submit everything I finish.  So any success I might have somehow found has happened despite my practices, not because of them.  It’s really not rocket science; I get an idea, sometimes I scribble some basic notes, then I think about it for anywhere from a day to five years or so.  I haphazardly write dozens of drafts of it in my head, getting a feel for its shape and structure, very hard things to express or verbalise.  Then, when it feels ready, I write it, usually in one or two intense sessions.  Most of the time, the work produced in these sessions is very much the work I submit, with not much in the way of serious rewriting.  I’m both deeply lazy and easily bored, so once I’ve written something, I don’t like to write it again.  I’ve done that.  I want to do something else.  Like I said, new writers, don’t follow this process, it leads to ruin and madness!

One thing I’ve definitely found useful lately is a writing group I started up called Perth Write Club.  This is the antithesis of most writing groups, which seem to be mainly folks sitting online talking about writing or, more often, trying to sell their latest works to each other.  We take the Elvis Presley approach; a little less conversation, a little more action.  We’re devoted to meeting every Saturday in two locations in the Perth metro area, to simply sit down for a few hours and write.  I think I’ve gotten more writing done in these sessions than I have in the years before it combined.  If anyone in Perth wants to come along, they can search for “Perth Write Club” on Facebook and request to join!

What work can we expect from you in the future?I just checked my own bibliography (sorry, a bit jet lagged!), and noticed that, for the first time in years, I have absolutely nothing in the pipeline. Everything is currently published.  That’s a scary thing!  I’m especially proud of my story “Boxing Day” in At The Edge from Paper Road Press, which has just come out, I think it’s one of my best stories.  And apart from that, I’m toiling away on my current books, a series of zombie spy thriller novels.

What Australian work have you loved recently?I’ve just finished reading Last Year When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan, and although I’d read most of the stories in it before, it was an absolute joy to read them again, as well as a bunch of stuff I hadn’t previously read.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to new writers who want to see how short stories are constructed, as Andrew is a master of that.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?Having just come back from Scandinavia, and enduring eight flights in all, I would have to say… Sophocles.  Because the level of decomposition would be virtually complete, allowing me to simply brush the last few remaining specks of organic matter off the chair and have it for myself to stretch my legs out.  Ooh, and I could eat his meal as well!

This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

2016 Snapshot: Nalini Haynes

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nhaynesNalini Haynes holds a Master of Social Science from the University of South Australia and an Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing from RMIT. Her work has been published in various places including the Arts Centre Melbourne (I think I can project 2014), the Wheeler Centre (‘Eye and Prejudice: a Vision for Equity’) and the ACT Writers Centre (blogger-in-residence program). Accolades include the Chronos Award for Best Fan Writer 2013, shortlisting for various awards, two invitations to join the Golden Key International Honours Society, the Dawn Slade-Faull Award 2008, selection for Adelaide Fringe Festival’s upstART program in 2008 and selection for Adelaide University’s ‘Place in the World’ exhibition in 2006.

Dark Matter Zine can be found at these links: WebsiteTumblrTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle Plus.

 

 

  1. You’ve been running the successful Dark Matter Zine, a massive website collecting reviews, interviews and all things speculative fiction., which features many regular contributors as well as yourself. What have you learned over the years of running the website? Is there any advice that you’d give to other people who are looking into starting writing reviews and the like?

First I’d like to point out that Dark Matter Zine is not just a spec fic website any more: reviews include everything from literature to nonfiction with speculative fiction as just one of the genres featured.

DMZ started as a PDF in October 2010 and launched as a website in April 2012. I’ve learnt a lot about the mechanics of software, writing, editing and publishing. During my years studying for my associate degree of Professional Writing and Editing from RMIT I focused on forms of writing and editing, for which I was awarded all distinctions and high distinctions as well as a second invitation to the Golden Key International Honours Society.

Advice for people starting reviewing… it could take a day to detail how to set up a website, so I won’t go into that here.

Focusing just on reviewing, I’d say read. A lot. Start writing reviews. Find good reviews — not necessarily reviews of good books, just well-written and well-thought out reviews — and read them. Read good books and bad ones and figure out what you like and dislike about them. Judge a book by what it sets out to achieve: if it’s a frivolous comedy, don’t criticise it for not taking an in-depth look at society. If it’s Cleverman, don’t say it needs to transcend its genre (I’m looking at you, Overland Journal). Trust yourself: if you’re going to check what other people think about a book, make sure you’ve written a draft review and developed your own opinions first or you’ll just echo everyone else.

Before you solicit review copies from anyone, start your website. Demonstrate your ability and your endurance. Gather an audience. Large publishers will ask you for your analytics (how many visits or views your website receives). They will ask you to demonstrate that you have an audience because if they gave books to everyone with their hand up for review copies they wouldn’t sell any.

Every reviewer and author needs an authentic voice. Who are you, what experience and training do you have that sets you apart from everyone else? I have a graduate diploma and a masters degree in social science as well as training and experience working with social issues including disability. This background gives me a unique voice. I have authority to speak on issues while understanding the limitations of my knowledge and experience. This is part of my unique authentic voice.

Someone else may be the Pauline Hanson of book reviewing. Don’t laugh, she’s ba-ack! (The minion says ‘Buy the domain name RedNeckReviews’.) If his or her voice is authentic, that person will gain a following. The Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies are a thing for a reason, folks. Be authentic and find your unique voice, no matter what it is.

On that note, be prepared for haters. I’ve had my share, including threats. The most terrifying threats are those from locals who may follow through. Be prepared. Have plans in place. Have a privacy policy in place that declares at least some of your plans. My privacy policy states that threats over the internet are illegal in Australia. Anyone who threatens me will be reported to the authorities. I have also named and shamed. You haven’t ‘made it’ until people have started abusing you online so have a plan.

Also have a friend or partner who will provide tissues, treats and hugs when the shit hits the fan. Remember: vilification means your website is being read. You need a plan to help you weather the storms.

Finally, beware of dual relationships. Don’t review your best friend’s story regardless of whether you loved it or hated it. Don’t review a book by someone with whom you’ve had conflict or your valid criticisms will be dismissed as spite; in other words, don’t cast your pearls before swine or they will turn and rend you.

Around the time I started Dark Matter, an author sued a reviewer. Apparently the reviewer had actually lied in her review and the author refused to settle out of court, preferring her day in court to provide public vindication. Always, always stick to the facts. If I post a negative review — a big ‘if’: if the book is bad I usually just discard it before I finish — if I post a negative review, it tends to be cautious, providing detailed justification for being negative. I’m not as cautious with reviews for average books because the Bell Curve is a thing.

In summary: have plans for every contingency; read lots; review lots; read well-written, thoughtful reviews; establish your review website before soliciting books for review; develop a unique authentic voice; plan for haters and even death threats; and avoid dual relationships.

 

  1. One of the issues you focus on is diversity, and specifically, the treatment of disability in culture (and speculative fiction). Do you feel like the speculative fiction community is improving in its attitudes to these issues? Are there things that you feel we still need to address?

The speculative fiction community’s representation of disability in stories is varied. Much of it is mediocre at best so those books that do it well are to be treasured. Those authors who write disability well are treasures in themselves; I’m particularly thinking of Francesca Haig, Kim Whitfield, Anita Bell and Jo Spurrier whose depictions of disability in SFF stand out from the crowd.

I won’t read books by authors who say of disability ‘I don’t need to do research, I use my imagination’. This is called ‘MISAPPROPRIATION’. Would you read a time travel book written by an author who had never consumed time travel stories? Probably not because you’d expect the story to be deeply flawed, reinventing mistakes of bygone eras. Well, it’s worse for disability: not only are you reinventing mistakes of bygone eras but, because there is so little good representation available, you’re reinforcing the status quo that is so scum-suckingly putrefyingly horrendous that people with disabilities are more likely than non-disabled people to commit suicide. Read this article about racial stereotypes on the Wheeler Centre website and mentally replace ‘racial stereotype’ with ‘minority group stereotype’ to include people with disabilities in this discussion. Don’t be the privileged person misappropriating disability culture or mocking the vulnerable.

In contrast, I applaud people like Francesca Haig who studied disability before representing disability. When I interviewed Francesca, she was cautious about representing disability as a person who is not disabled; she was tentative and respectful.

My own work in progress features a few protagonists including a Chinese American; my writing benefits from research and especially from input from a Chinese Australian and a Philippina Australian who shared features of their home-life that enriched my character’s multi-lingual world. Likewise I urge writers to represent disability after research and to consult with beta readers relevant to the represented minority group, just as you should if you write Indigenous Australians.

The speculative fiction community’s attitude to disability is as variable as its members.

Someone invited me to moderate a panel on disability in speculative fiction and gave limits: only discuss good representation of disability. Shortly afterwards a non-disabled woman harassed me on Facebook via private message telling me that I’m incapable of moderating a panel on disability because I’m disabled. Several times this woman told me (she did not ask) that she was going to run the panel but I kept saying ’no’ then I blocked her. When she realised I’d blocked her for harassment, she switched to email, sending a series of emails asking to at least be co-moderator because, according to her, only a person without a disability is capable of moderating a panel on disability. I have a Graduate Diploma and a Master of Social Science that both include study of social issues including disability; I participated in Reins, Rope and Red Tape, the disability arts advocacy training course by people with disabilities for people with disabilities run by Arts Access in South Australia before it was defunded; as a counsellor and ASO4 Community Health Worker, I have worked with people with disabilities; I have a lifetime’s experience of disability and disability discrimination; and I have published over one hundred podcasts of interviews and panels. Many people have commented that my interviewing skills are excellent. But, according to this non-disabled woman whom the spec fic community touts as an expert on disability, my disability precludes me from moderating a panel on disability. This is disability discrimination in action. This is an issue that needs addressing.

Earlier this year a writing group leader told me via email that disability issues in my short story made her feel uncomfortable and that disability issues do not belong in near-future speculative fiction but she could allow disability issues in far-future speculative fiction. She emailed me twicetelling me to write a memoir and find another writing group. The second time was after I acknowledged her first ‘suggestion’ and explained that writing a memoir, reliving all that soul-shattering discrimination, would destroy me. After her second instruction to find another writing group I requested a copy of the writing group’s constitution to check whether the group is intentionally ableist. The committee retaliated by revoking my partner’s and my memberships without a hearing, issuing a refund of membership fees and failing to respond to my protest sent in reply to their email. Groups within the speculative fiction community are working against the development and publication of stories featuring disabilities when written by people with disabilities; this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Anthologies touted as focusing on disability need fact-checking and careful editing. For example, I read a short story about a woman with spina bifida, which was explained in the narrative as ‘missing spine’ (a gross simplification that implies lack of understanding). The character dragged herself around with her arms but could urinate without a catheter. [See my impersonation of a goldfish. Then see steam coming out of my ears while I think of all the people I know living with spina bifida and how this story could detrimentally impact them.] If you’re going to write or edit stories about disability, check your facts. Make sure the representation is medically accurate and representative of at least some people with that form of disability. Otherwise you’re misappropriating disability culture while, at the same time, perpetuating or worsening the lived experience for real people.

In recent years the speculative fiction community has increasingly discussed disability and become more aware of disability access issues, however, there is resistance to change and a tendency on the part of privileged people to applaud themselves prematurely. In part this is due to the current trickle of crip fic (see the previous paragraph) but also due to ableist assertions that ‘we have provided disability access’ in the face of complaints.

A few positives: PAXAustralia is the best expo or convention I’ve been to with regards to disability access. I <3 PAX although their program app has dire yet common issues with regards to disability access. (Does no one test these apps with iPad magnification turned on?!) Russell B Farr of Ticonderoga gave me an iPhone 3 so I could experience the joys of large text, enabling me to use SMS. I loved it so much I now have an iPhone 6 Plus. Tom Dullemond encouraged me to turn to Apple for increased disability access, giving me tips on how to set it up. Thanks in part to Tom, I’m sitting in front of a 32 inch Mac today. Back in the dawn of (DMZ) time, people were supportive although I still needed to get runs on the board. Meg Mundell was very understanding and helpful when she was the guinea pig for my first phone interview while I was taking notes without a recording device. Michael Pryor wrote The Extraordinaires, which I both love and criticise simultaneously because the albino is a kick-ass protagonist but glasses cannot fix albinism; using glasses to fix albinism is problematic because it reinforces public misconceptions. Pryor has never lashed out against my criticism and has since come on a Dark Matter Zine podcast as a panelist discussing diversity. Anita Bell has been very encouraging, leaving comments on Facebook or quietly messaging me when she sees discrimination and bullying getting me down. Small acts of kindness, equity and inclusion are like flecks of real gold in the golden shower of life.

The speculative fiction community is as varied in attitude as broader society. There is good, bad and ugly behaviour. Citing examples is to hold a mirror to behaviours, thereby lobbying for change. I use acts of kindness and exclusion to illustrate the spectrum of equity to ableism that is my lived experience when interacting with the speculative fiction community.

 

  1. What can we expect from you, and from Dark Matter Zine, in the future?

I’m writing a novel featuring a disabled protagonist whose BFF is half Chinese. Dark Matter is embracing more diversity in genre as well as more diversity in characters. I’m aiming at a fortnightly podcast featuring some really interesting authors. Lately I’ve interviewed Will Kostakis, Wendy Orr, Zana Fraillon and Rajith Savanadasa. I’ve been getting two-for-one out of these interviews by distilling the essence of their comments on equity and representation for a series published via the ACT Writers Centre blogger-in-residence program. These posts can be found here as they come online.

 

  1. What Australian work have you loved recently?

Lately I’ve loved The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (OMG everyone should read this novel about an Australian girl and a refugee boy, it’s the new Boy in Striped Pyjamas with a more hopeful ending), Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr (a strong female protagonist aged 12), Sidekicks by Will Kostakis (a teenager dies then his diverse friends have to come to terms with his death and their lives), Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa (set in 2009 in Sri Lanka as the civil war officially comes to an end)… the list could go on.

 

  1. Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Margaret Atwood. If you have to ask why, you haven’t read enough of her work.

 

 

This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews. 

Defying Doomsday is in the wild!

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Defying Doomsday, containing my story, To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath, is now officially released.  You can nab yourself a copy over at Twelfth Planet Press, and other book retailers, in ebook or paperback versions right now.  I’ve read through the anthology, and though I’m obviously biased, I can highly recommend grabbing a copy.

I’d also like to link to a very nice article about the anthology, originally published in the West Australian, in which Tsana Dolvicha and I talk about the anthology and I get cranky about inspiration porn.  You can read the article here.