The end of a draft/burnout

The end

Yesterday, I finished a full draft of the latest version of Never.  It’s horribly broken, and needs at least one more full redraft, but it’s finished.

And in probably related news, I am burned out.  Empty.  Burned out on writing, burned out on reviewing.  So I’m going to be taking a short break away from both.  An actual holiday, even.  I’m anticipating lots of Aurealis reading coming in, so there will be that.  And I’ve technically finished my challenge for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, but I’d still like to add some more decent reviews (namely to the things I’ve read and marked over at Goodreads as wanting to review).

Now, what is that people do when they’re not running around a mouse wheel made of words?  I forget.

Announcement: The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2014

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I’m really happy to be able to announcement that my weird steampunk dystopia novelette, Escapement, will be reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2014 coming out soon from Ticonderoga Publications!  And holy crap, look at some of the people I’m sharing that TOC with!  Congrats to everyone involved.


 

Announcement copied from Ticonderoga Publications:

We’re really happy to be able to announce the final line-up and cover of the fifth volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror.

Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have compiled an impressive list of fantastic stories first published in 2014, from New Zealand’s and Australia’s finest writers.

The 28 stories selected are

  • Alan Baxter, “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” [Suspended in Dusk]
  • James Bradley, “The Changeling” [Fearsome Magics]
  • Imogen Cassidy, “Soul Partner” [Aurealis 74]
  • David Conyers & David Kernot, “The Bullet & The Flesh” [World War Cthulhu]
  • Terry Dowling, “The Corpse Rose” [Nightmare Carnival]
  • Thoraiya Dyer, “The Oud” [Long Hidden Anthology]
  • Jason Franks, “Metempsychosis” [SQ Mag]
  • Michelle Goldsmith, “Of Gold and Dust” [Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Maga 60]
  • Michael Grey, “1884” [Cthulhu Lives: An Eldrich Tribute to H.P.Lovecraft]
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement” [Kisses by Clockwork]
  • Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter, “Vox” [The Female Factory]
  • Gerry Huntman, “Of The Colour Tumeric, Climbing on Fingertips” [Night Terrors III]
  • Rick Kennett, “Dolls for Another Day” [The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows: Vol 2]
  • Charlotte Kieft, “Chiaroscuro” [Disquiet]
  • SG Larner, “Kneaded” [Phantazein]
  • Claire McKenna, “Yard” [Use Only As Directed]
  • Andrew J. McKiernan, “A Prayer for Lazarus” [Last Year, When We Were Young]
  • Faith Mudge, “Signature” [Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fi]
  • Jason Nahrung, “The Preservation Society” [Dimension6]
  • Emma Osbourne, “The Box Wife” [Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre & Twisted #9]
  • Angela Rega, “Shedding Skin” [Crossed Genres]
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, “The Love Letters of Swans” [Phantazein]
  • Angela Slatter, “The Badger Bride” [Strange Tales IV]
  • Cat Sparks, “New Chronicles of Andras Thorn” [Dimension6 Annual Collection 2014]
  • Anna Tambour, “The Walking-stick Forest” [Tor.com]
  • Kyla Ward, “Necromancy” [Spectral Realms #1]
  • Kaaron Warren, “Bridge of Sighs” [Fearful Symmetries: An Anthology of Horror]
  • Janeen Webb, “Lady of the Swamp” [Death at the Blue Elephant]

In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2014 and a list of highly recommended stories.

The editors will shortly begin reading for the sixth volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror.

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2014 is scheduled for publication in late-October 2015 and can be pre-ordered at indiebooksonline.com. The anthology will be available in hardcover, ebook and trade editions.

AWW2015: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

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The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.


 

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


I’m a longtime fan of Kate Forsyth (I vividly remember stalking the bookstore shelves waiting for each Witches of Eileanan book to be released), and particularly loved her last two books, The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens, and was thus extremely happy to be asked to read and review The Beast’s Garden.

I will admit up front, I went into this book with a small sense of trepidation.  I had very high hopes, based on how good The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens were, but I did wonder about the premise of The Beast’s Garden– namely, combining a version of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast (specifically, The Singing, Springing Lark) and Nazi Germany during World War II.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t sure that Forsyth could pull off such a story, I wondered if anyone could pull it off.

And now that I’ve read the book, the question: did Forsyth manage to pull it off?  The answer is a resounding hell yes.

It should be noted that this book isn’t going to be for every reader.  There are scenes set in a concentration camp, and while Forsyth doesn’t linger overlong on any of the atrocities, neither does she shield the reader from the true horrors of of WWII and the Holocaust.  If any of this is a trigger for you, this isn’t going to be the book for you.  But please, if you haven’t done so, go and read all of Forsyth’s other books.  They’re more than worth it.

In the role of “Beauty” we have Ava, a German girl who is training as a singer.  In looks, Ava takes after her dead Spanish mother, while her two sisters are blue-eyed and blonde-haired, fitting the Aryan ideal.  Ava and her family are not safe beneath Nazi rule.  Ava’s own darker colouring puts her at potential risk of being declaimed as having Romani blood, and one of her sisters has a daughter who is possibly learning disabled.  More, Ava’s family are close to a Jewish family, the Feidlers.  After Ava’s mother died, Ava was practically raised by Mrs Feidler, and regards Rudi Feidler (an out gay man) as a brother.  Ava and Rudi are both musicians, and both attend illicit jazz clubs together.  To protect all of her blood and found family, Ava marries a Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein.

Leo, naturally is the “Beast” of the tale, and it is the romance between Leo and Ava which drives much of the novel.  At first, Ava fears Leo, only knowing him as a Nazi officer.  As she gets to know him, and see beneath the public mask he wears, she discovers that he is a lot more than he first appeared.  Like her, he is fighting against Hitler’s rule, and is part of an underground resistance movement.

The story follows Leo and Ava as they both navigate Nazi Germany and the various plots to disrupt Nazi rule and attempt to assassinate Hitler.  We also get to follow Rudi after he is arrested for “subversive activities” and deported to the concentration camp, Buchenwald.  Yet another story thread is shown via Rudi’s sister Jutta, who evades arrest and lives in hiding from the Nazis.

On the surface, it is hard to see much hope in any story set in WWII Germany.  Forsyth doesn’t shy from any of the horrors: we get to see the Jewish people suffering both in the camps and in hiding, as well as the German people starving as their country begins to bend and break beneath the weight of Nazi rule and the war.  But in the darkness, there is light.  Even while deathly afraid, Ava finds ways to fight.  And in Buchenwald, Rudi plays illicit music, saves others where he can (and is saved in turn) and even finds love.

Forsyth skilfully weaves in many historical figures and events into the narrative, giving a real weight to a book that, in less talented hands, could easily have become little more than a fluffy romance between the Brave German Girl and Nazi With a Heart of Gold, or something extremely problematic.  If you’re worried about either of these issues, let me put your worries to rest right here.

With The Beast’s Garden, Forsyth cements herself as one of the most talented authors writing historical fiction (with a good dash of fairytale retelling) in Australia today.

July in review

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July books

Writing

  • I made the decision partway through this month to stop writing every day, after having written daily for over a year.  I was feeling burned out and utterly exhausted, and wanted my weekends back.  I’m not making any commitments to keeping this writing pattern permanently, but for now, it’s a relief to have the weekends for myself and my family.
  • I am a squeak away from reaching 80k on this draft of Never.  I’m basically totally redrafting the last third, so it’s slower and harder going than the first two thirds.  I’m at the point where I’m looking forward to this draft being done.  Mostly so I can start editing it.

Reading and Reviewing

  • I voted in the Hugos.  Which translates mostly as slapping No Award on most of the categories.  I’m looking forward to seeing the stats after the winners are announced, though I anticipate anger at the good works which got pushed off the ballot.
  • One review written for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Insert Title Here, edited by Tehani Wessley.
  • One Netgalley review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Miscellaneous

  • This has been a hard month health-wise, with many arthritis flares, as usual for me in winter.  I’m coping, but the constant pain equals a lot of exhaustion.

AWW2015: Insert Title Here, edited by Tehani Wessley

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On the [date redacted] of the [year redacted], [names redacted] of the [organisation redacted] discovered a hidden text that documented realities other than our own.

Dark, weird realities.

Within these pages they discovered monuments to a dying alien race, sentient islands caught like fish, a tree that grows pencils, a baby transformed into a hummingbird, and a steampunk Maori whaling crew.

They were afraid, as you should be afraid. They saw life, death and the space between; metamorphosis, terrible choices and bitter regrets.

[Names redacted] looked into the abyss, and what they saw within was nameless and terrible.

This is that book.

Enter if you dare.


 

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  I purchased this copy.


Insert Title Here is an unthemed anthology from Australian small press Fablecroft Publishing, said by editor Tehani Wessley to be their darkest offering yet.  Of note is the fact that the call for submissions for this anthology actually resulted in Fablecroft publishing two separate anthologies: Insert Title Here and Phantazein.

It is always a different experience reading an unthemed anthology.  I find it harder to read more than one story in a row, since there are no connecting threads between stories, and as such, it took me longer than usual to finish this book.  This is absolutely no comment on the quality of the book, of course, which is, as to be expected from Fablecroft, extremely high.

I’m not going to discuss every story in this anthology, but I will point out some of my favourites.  I’ll note that I loved the darkness of this anthology (you can take the girl out of horror, but you can’t take the horror out of the girl), and all of the stories were worthwhile reading.

The book opens with a story from Jo Anderton, 2B.  And holy hell, what an opening this is.  I was drawn in immediately by the vivid imagery of this world: a place where things grow in strange ways, tyres growing from trees, pencils which can be planted to grow trees which fruit more pencils.  If you’ve never read any of Anderton’s work, this could be a good place to start, as this story highlights her grasp of imagery and strangeness, while still being able to wring deep emotion out of only a handful of words.  Dreamlike and haunting, this is one of my favourites in the anthology.

D.K. Mok’s Almost Days is another story which tends towards the dreamlike, this time taking the reader into a place called the Wings.  This is definitely a story where you want to go in without being spoiled, but suffice to say that this is an incredible story.  Read it, then read it again.  Then go and devour everything Mok had written.  You’ll thank me.

Her Face Like Lightning by David McDonald takes us deeper into human darkness: of ritual magic and sorcery and grasping for power.  I feel very much like this story only begins to skim the surface of a fascinating world, and I hope that McDonald will come back to it at some point in the future (I’d happily read a novel set in this world, hint, hint, David ;)).

Sara Larner’s Living in the Light begins with one of the best first lines I think I have ever read: “My child turned into a hummingbird.”.  How could you not read on after that?  There is something almost feverish about this story, but in the sheer strangeness of it, there is also heartbreaking emotion.  Highly recommended.

Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver takes us to the terraformed (and failing) moon, where Hana lives with her mothers.  This is a gorgeous story, short but filled with sadness, but a sorrow tinged with hope.  I’ve found myself thinking of this story often since finishing it, which is always a sign of a good short story.

My last favourite, and the concluding story in the anthology, is Stephanie Burgis’ The Art of Deception.  I need to make note here that Burgis is a friend, and someone who I have beta read for, but this does not influence the fact that I would have loved this story, no matter who had written it.  Pure epic fantasy, which is extremely hard to make work well in the short form, with a fascinating world and characters, I kind of really hope that Burgis will expand upon this world more at some stage in the future.

Overall, this is an extremely strong collection.  The stories are varied, and I suspect that most readers will find at least one or two which speaks to them.  Highly recommended.

 

Writing every day for a year, a summary

For the last year, I have written every day.

For most of that time, I was tracking wordcount on the Magic Spreadsheet.  For the last few months, I’ve stopped using the Magic Spreadsheet, but have been tracking my word counts on my own Google spreadsheet.

For the last two days, I did not write.

It felt very strange not to be getting in word count for those two days, but it also felt kind of awesome.  I was feeling very, very burned out, and just generally exhausted.  It’s the end of school holidays, and I’ve been sick on and off for months, and the cold weather has not been fun to the arthritis and fibromyalgia.

And so, on Saturday and Sunday, I did not write.  And I’m thinking that I might go back to only writing on weekdays.  Treating writing as a “real” job again.

This year has actually been a really useful experiment for me.  I’ve proved that I can write every day if I need to (though probably not indefinitely).  In this time, I’ve managed a draft and a half of a novel, two short stories that have been sold, and a novella that I’ve sent out.  Those two short stories were actually really hard to write and took a long time (as short works tend to for me, I’m slowly accepting the fact that I’m a slow writer in terms of getting stuff to the finished stage).

But should I keep doing it just because I can?  I don’t think so.  At some point, I may come back to it, and I will probably end up writing some weekends, but for now, I need some time off.

June in review

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Books acquired in June

Um, I actually thought this would be a light month for books (oops).  I did manage to pick up a few bargains, and two of them (Hear Me Roar) are contributor’s copies, so it’s not that bad.  And Afterparty was bought to counteract the “let’s all boycott” Tor day.

Needless to say, I haven’t made that much of a dent in Mount To-Be-Read this month.

Writing

  • I am in serious novel writing mode, and have just cruised past the 40k mark of this draft of Never.  My wonderful critique partner has looked over the first 35k or so, and I’m feeling good about this draft.  I feel in general like I’ve levelled up with novel writing, but I guess we’ll see once I start shopping it around (after some more editing, of course).
  • The table of contents of Bloodlines was announced, including my story The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth.

Reading and Reviewing

  • Hugo reading (pauses to shudder).  I made it through the novel category without getting too disheartened – there are three good best novel candidates (The Goblin Emperor just squeaks in above The Three-Body Problem and Ancillary Sword for me, but only just, and I may change my mind before the end of voting).  As for the short fiction categories, let’s just say that I have exercised my right to vote No Award a lot.  And yes, I read (or attempted to read) everything.  Thankfully, the graphic novels were also mostly awesome.  I’m trying to psych myself up to read the packet entries for the other categories.
  • One review written for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Cranky Ladies of History (spoiler: I loved it).
  • One Netgalley review: Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (spoiler again: I also loved this).

Miscellaneous

  • Healthwise, this has been a month of wins and losses.  Win: the new medication I’m on is working with minimal side effects (which never happens) and I’m starting to have more energy.  Loss: both my husband and myself have had the head cold from hell, resulting in a lot of sinus headaches.  Unfun.
  • The cat has not tried to escape from the house again.  She seems very happy to be back home, and doesn’t even linger at doors much now.  I think she learned a big lesson.
  • School holidays start at the end of this week.  I’m looking forward to not having to rush around in the mornings for a few weeks, even if it will probably mean reduced word counts.

 

AWW2015: Cranky Ladies of History

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Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

 


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.   I was a contributor to the Pozible campaign that partially funded the production of this book.


Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessley, published by Fablecroft Publishing.  Publication of the anthology was supported by a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible and by a Tasmanian Arts Crowbar Grant.

When I first heard about the crowdfunding campaign for Cranky Ladies of History, I rushed to fund it.  Not only was I going to be on board with any anthology edited by Roberts and Wessley, but the theme had me at “cranky ladies”.  I opted to fund at the level which gave me the hardcover edition, which is a truly beautiful book.  Kathleen Jennings has created yet another utterly gorgeous cover, not to mention the internal illustrations in the book, which are all amazing.

I have to admit upfront that I am not the most thoroughly read in terms of history or historical fiction, and as such, many of the cranky ladies depicted in the stories were unknown to me.  As I started to read, I found myself wishing that each story had been prefaced by a small biography of the woman in question, but as I read more, I found myself glad that none had been provided.  There was a small thrill of recognition in seeing the women I recognised, and it was quite lovely to come to the ones I wasn’t familiar with without any prior assumptions.  Every one of the women was fascinating, and I suspect that there is going to be a lot of reading about their histories in my future.

I went into this anthology expecting a particular kind of woman to be represented: the woman who fought for good, and perhaps broke social norms in order to do so.  I was pleasantly surprised that there was, in fact, a wide range of “cranky ladies” presented (and honestly, I shouldn’t have been, given the editors and authors involved).  The fighter for good and breaker of social norms was there, as well as the warrior, but there were also darker levels of “crankiness” presented, for example, Countess Bathory, who can in no terms be described as good, but was certainly a cranky lady of her time.

I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in depth, but don’t take this to mean that they’re not all worthy of your time.  These are simply the stories that have particular resonance for me in terms of my reading taste.

Partway through reading, I tweeted that Kirstyn McDermott’s “Mary, Mary” had instantly become one of my favourite short stories of all time.  Now, having finished reading the anthology, I stand by this.  Mary Woolstonecroft, feminist, writer, and mother of Mary Shelley (she died ten days after giving birth to the second Mary) is the focus of this story.  McDermott’s prose is gorgeous and lush as always, and there is a clear empathy for both Marys and for the plight of all women of the time.  I loved the inclusion of the possibly-supernatural Grey Lady in this, too.  I think this is possibly one of McDermott’s strongest short stories to date.

Deborah Biancotti’s “Look How Cold My Hands Are” concerns the aforementioned Countess Bathory.  Bathory is said to have been one of the most prolific serial killers in history, who tortured and abused hundreds of young women.  Her punishment was being immured in her castle, and she remained walled up for the last four years of her life.  Biancotti, as to be expected from her body of work, does not shy away from any of the horror of Bathory’s actions, and renders the Countess a very believeable and truly horrible figure.  There is no redemption for Bathory, and yet Biancotti manages to convey a sense of the Countess’ belief that her actions were just.

The third story I’m going to mention is Amanda Pillar’s “Neter, Nefer”.  A brief caveat: I’ve worked with Pillar as my editor, a role at which she is brilliant.  Here, we get to see that she’s also a brilliant writer.  I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, so it’s little surprise that I was drawn to this story on that basis alone, but I utterly loved the way Pillar approached the story of the female pharaoh Hatshephut.  The story is told from the perspective of Hatshephut’s daughter Neferure, and reveals so much about women in Ancient Egypt, and describes a fascinating mother-daughter relationship at the same time.  I would throw great wads of money at Pillar to have this expanded into a full novel.

It would have been very easy for editors to fall into the trap of choosing stories and protagonists who came only from a Eurocentric background in developing an anthology like this.  Wessley and Roberts–as I would expect from them–do not fall into this trap.  The collection is cleverly bookmarked by stories that reference Anne Boleyn, but we travel much of the world in between these two.  We have stories about cranky women from Central Asia (Foz Meadows writing about Khutulan, warrior who challenged any man who wished to marry her to defeat her in wrestling; loss meant forfeiting horses to her.  She is said to have won 10,000 horses in this fashion), China (Joyce Chng writing about Leizu, the Chinese empress who discovered silk), Australia (Sylvia Kelso, writing about Lilian Cooper, first female doctor registered in Queensland) and Iceland (Lisa L. Hannett, writing about Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir, Viking woman who suffers from terrible luck), as well as many more, including a great many awesome female pirates (and I would also pay money for a Cranky Lady Pirates sequel!).

It bears repeating that all of the stories in this book are excellent, not just the ones I’ve singled out above.  Reading this anthology, it made me realise just how many of the female stories are left out of traditional history as its taught, women most often relegated to the margins as daughters and wives, their own stories forgotten.  I’d like to think that somewhere in the past, these women are looking up and thanking the authors and editors for shining a light on them in all of their glorious crankiness.

Highly recommended, even if you don’t usually enjoy historical fiction.