Tag Archives: Genrecon

2013

Well, this year is about wrapped up, and as is the want of the season I figured I’d take a look back and see if I could somehow parse some meaning from all of those events that occurred:

Best Books:

I read some excellent books this year.
Noteworthy was Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Red Country‘, which was much anticipated and lived up to lofty expectations. I really liked the returning characters and the new ones even more so, and Joe’s continuing breadth of hybridised genres remained an invigorating force on my appreciation of modern Fantasy writing.
I also read several of Chuck Wendig’s books. You might have noticed I referenced him repeatedly this year on the blog, and with good cause. I ‘discovered’ his writing through the terribleminds website and his advice to writers, and I’m glad that this led me to his fiction. The Miriam Black books were great. His Corn-Punk YA and Atlanta Burns stories were good excursions into a genre I don’t read enough of, and Blue Blazes was great. I still have a special place for the first of his books that I read though, the tales of Coburn, a vampire who wakes up in the zombie apocalypse and must become a shepherd to his ‘sheeple’

Against this stiff competition though rose Mark Lawrence’s trilogy (Prince, King, Emperor of Thorns). It has caused some controversy in some circles but I didn’t find the protagonist as shocking or evil as some of the criticism would suggest. He wasn’t a good guy, but I think he was trying to be without really knowing how. In that sense he wasn’t so much different from other protagonists I’ve read. He was younger in book 1, but as the book progressed that feature became less pronounced, and given the images of teenage ‘soldiers’ coming out of Syria I had little problem accepting it. The world was interesting, but several queries regarding technology level and such went unanswered. I would happily recommend them and look forward to reading Lawrence’s future works.

Best Graphic Novel:

It’s a small field, as I don’t read too many, but I did finally get around to reading “Red Son”. I’m not really a fan of DC and certainly not of Superman who I think tends to fascistic fantasies of control, or to some infantile desire to be protected and guided by a greater being. I was interested in how the Superman mythos would play out against the Soviet political ideals, and while ‘Red Son’ touched on this paradox it went largely unexplored. In the end I felt that the Red Son Superman was still an American, transplanted into Russia, rather than a full exploration of what a Soviet Superman would truly mean. It was an interesting and thought-provoking read though.

Best Film:

Surprisingly few real contenders here. I saw many of the big ‘tent-pole’ movies and usually came away with mild disappoint. ‘Elysium’ didn’t live up to its aesthetic and tried to sledgehammer me with a political message. ‘Into Darkness’ was silly, burdened by fan-service and more spectacle than substance. ‘Iron Man 3’ had some good sequences but seemed to lose the sense of character. ‘Man of Steel’ did a wonderful job of setting up and re-imagining a familiar origin story, but the Krypton scenes were unnecessary, the whole final act was terrible and Snyder’s misogyny kept rearing up ugly. ‘World War Z’, again, sacrificed story to spectacle. ‘Desolation of Smaug’ looked amazing but was weighed down under its own attempts to be an epic far beyond the proportions of its source material. ‘Pacific Rim’ had awesome robots and kaiju… and that is all. ‘Django Unchained’ was disappointing – particularly in the manner by which it relegated its eponymous character to secondary and tertiary roles when Waltz and DiCaprio were on-screen.

I think therefore that ‘Gravity’ gets the nod. Sure there were problems, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out, but it was a great experience. I saw it in IMAX 3D and it was beautifully immersive. I love Cuarón’s long tracking shots and the film’s opening was a wonderful example of how the technique can be well used.

(Special mention to ‘Wreck-it Ralph’ for being an absolutely awesome movie to watch with the kids).

Best Event:

Two great events for me this year as a writer.

Firstly, Genrecon 2013 gave me the opportunity again to meet so many other writers in such a diverse range of specialities, and at different stages in the auctorial development. The panels and workshops were excellent, the community supportive and inclusive, the international guests warm and engaging, the banquet after-party sufficiently well lubricated.

Secondly, I saw George RR Martin and Michelle Fairley in conversation, hosted by the Wheeler’s Centre in a side-show to their Supernova commitments. Michelle was wonderfully entertaining and forthright. GRRM went over some adages with which I was already familiar – it must be tremendously difficult to answer the same questions in new ways – but also added some interesting insights into his process and the story thus far (such as his being uncertain that Bronn would even survive the Eyrie, only to watch as the character became important as a sounding-board for Tyrion, and then important in his own right).

Writing:

I have taken some strides here too, but not as many as I had hoped. I’m much more organised with my submissions tracking spreadsheet and a good list of potential markets to explore (thanks in particular to Peter Ball and Alan Baxter); I pitched my novel MS again and felt a lot more confident and assured in doing so; I have five finished short-stories this year, for a total of about 30,000 words.

I am not unhappy with that, given all of the external pressures on my time, but I want to increase that figure. Alan Baxter estimated himself as having completed over 250,000 words this year and Chuck Wendig has something like 600,000. Chuck’s a full-time pen-monkey, but he has a toddler and I am sure many of the same concerns and excuses that I do, so I’m not going to point at any of those as a way out, I’m just going to look at my 30,000 or so, nod, and acknowledge that I could do more.

2014:

Goals then?

  • To write over 50,000 words in 2014. For those not good on the maths, that’s about 1,000 a week. 200 words a day x 5 days a week. That looks do-able.
  • To have completed 6 short stories. That’s one every 2 months. I’ll need to do this and more to hit the 50,000, so hopefully this is a goal I can meet and exceed.
  • Reading 10 novels. That’s about one very 5 weeks, and I suspect this will be the tough one., because I want to hit this goal without including the reading I have to do for work, but perhaps the work reading will have to contribute.
  • Reading 100 short stories. That’s 2 a week, and I think this is an achievable one. I’ve subscribed to Daily Science Fiction, so even if I just read all of them I will be fine, but I’ll get subscriptions to a few other mags as well so that there’ll be the variety. I’m also reading Raymond Chandler’s short stories for work. I may or may not include these toward my goal.
  • Blogging. 1 post a month, at least, and I ambitiously hope to get one up every fortnight.

So there you have it: 2013 tucked into the past and a clear guiding line through 2014. Thanks for following and being a part of it. I appreciate that there is some sense of an audience out there and it helps me to stay motivated knowing that there are readers waiting.

Happy New Year to you all. Hope it’s been a good ’13 and a great ’14 ahead.

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Genrecon 2013

Last weekend I went to Brisbane for the second annual Genrecon event.

It was my first time in Brisbane and the weather was perfect, just as the tourism board promises. Genrecon was set amongst the brutalist installations of the late 80s (Southbank was tidied up for Expo 88) and the cultural precinct was a great place to wander around nursing a coffee or a hangover.

Genrecon 2013 itself was, as 2012 had been, an amazing experience. Huge thanks to Peter Ball and Meg Vann and all the QWC ninjas for making it happen.

I came straight from the airport to the Opening Night Reception where I caught up with some of the 2012 veterans such as The Mercieca boys, Chris Andrews and others, and met several new and exciting young writers (like Chris White), editors, agents, publishers and genre-fiction lovers. Special mention here to the Romance writers,  some of whom I knew already, others of whom I met for the first time (such as Cathryn Hein, who was happy to talk footy with me). They were, universally, a pleasure to speak with.

On Saturday morning I made my pitch to Alex Adsett, agent extraordinaire. She was interested enough to request a partial, so I will be emailing that off this week. Having the pitch done early meant I could relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Scott Baker‘s talk on book trailers was (although I missed the start while pitching) a fascinating insight into how new or established authors can build a profile, or open themselves to a diversified market. His own example (for his novel The Rule of Knowledge was excellent. “It’s better to have no book trailer, than to have a bad book trailer.”

Patrick O’Duffy, Kate Cuthbert and Kim Wilkins dragged the workshop on mixing genre into the realm of Dino-erotica, complete with role play. “It’s easier to market a story that is at the centre of an established genre, but that’s not (an author’s) job. Just write the damn book and let the marketing department decide how to sell it.”

The conversation event with John Connolly was fantastic. He’s such a witty and entertaining speaker and shared a lot of wisdom about persistence, effort, professionalism and the need to finish things. “You will always be an amateur if you don’t finish things.”

The Kimonos and Cutlasses Dinner was great. Chuck Wendig gave a live action rendition of his famous “25 lists”. This time ’25 Reasons Why I Fucking Love Genre Fiction”, and followed that up with an interview with Kate Cuthbert that had the room in great spirits. Special mention here to the lovely Denise Rosetti, whom I met at GC 2012, an Erotic Romance writer who has been wonderfully generous with tips on writing craft and the publishing industry.

The post-dinner party was a great night. A chance to debate the relative merits of Kirk and Pickard with Kate Cuthbert (she for Pickard, me arguing for Kirk. Something surely must be said for romancing the unfettered masculine, rather than the dignified and refined. I saw Picard as too staid and paternal. She saw him differently. I think we decided on the terminology ‘Gent in the street/Beast in the bed’).
Later I had the chance to have a few drinks with Scott and John. Here I am then, a young writer, finding his way into the industry, sat at a table with an international best-seller and someone who helped create the Hobbit films… I probably didn’t take full advantage of that, but it was a great conversation. I won’t reproduce it here, but after those trapped in the elevator (including the lovely Gemma Smith) escaped we turned our musing toward cannibalism, and I think that raised the tone.

Sunday began with an almighty hangover, but I made it to the Leanpub presentation, which gave a very interesting history of genre fictions origins in Dickensian serials. Alex gave an insight into the business of being a writer and what to look for in publishing contracts, and Anita Heiss told some hard truths about sales, genre, and finding a niche.

One of the absolute highlights was Charlotte Nash and Rebekah Turner‘s workshop on Action films. Die Hard, Terminator, Aliens, Predator, Speed and The Matrix, all used to show universal truths about how Character, Conflict and Context can be used to tell a compelling narrative.  “You need to give the characters authentic reasons to act in character. There has to be a reason in the context for the characters to act as they do.”

The panel on antagonists gave Chuck and PM Newton a chance to get side-tracked by The Wire and discussing the various ways in which McNulty, Stringer, Barksdale and Marlo were mutual antagonists, and Omar was everyone’s antagonist. Interestingly the discussion turned to the dearth of female antagonists, and it seemed that when they were present it was often opposite female protagonists or as the face of some larger systemic antagonism. “A good antagonist is the hero of his own story.”

And a wonderful event ended with a debate over whether “Genre just wants to have fun,” and despite the best efforts of John “Paris” Birmingham and his impassioned call for the negative team to stop hating life, it was Scott Baker’s reworking of Poe’s ‘The Raven’ that won the day.

Next Genrecon is 2015. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The genre writing community is so supportive and the whole event was so inspiring. There is a diverse range of perspectives, from Horror, to Romance, to Crime, to Sci-Fi, to Fantasy; novelists, short story writers… all sorts. And my people.
Any room where you can get cheered for knowing the significance of LV-426 is my kind of room!


Craft v Platform

There is a tension in some, it would appear, between two apparently opposing forces: the practice of one’s craft, and the building of one’s platform.

I’ve discussed this before, but really, I have never thought of this – what I’m doing here – as ‘platform’. The concept that blogging, maintaining a site, setting up a page, being active on twitter, attending cons… that all of that could be merely some effort to ensnare potential readers, that always struck me as slightly nefarious. Dishonest at worst, a mistake of priorities at best.

I always figured on doing all those things because I like doing them. I like here tapping away and throwing my words out into the churning void of bandwidth and opinion that is the internet. I liked going to Genrecon and meeting a community of people who shared my passions, or gave me new insights into passions related but different, or even new insights into my own. I like interacting with people on Twitter, on Facebook, wherever else it might be. So I hadn’t really felt the tension between these things and the craft of writing, other than the obvious mismanagement of time that could occur.

But Jane Friedman’s post on Writer Unboxed got me thinking about this tension anew last month, and as a result I went away from the website here, I left neglected my Facebook Page, I went away from Twitter… ok. That last one’s not true. Twitter is a difficult thing to shake. I did though take a more passive role on twitter, allowing those I follow to guide me to links and such, but not tweeting (much).

What then has been gained from this month of social media ‘sabbatical’? What gained from a month devoted to craft rather than the building of ‘profile’?

  • I finished writing my draft of Old Man Madigan. It comes in at 10,000 words and I’m wondering now whether I submit it to a market which may be prepared to serialise it, or whether I go in hard with the editing shears and cut.
  • I started expanding some ideas for other short stories, tentatively entitled: Pareidolia, Watchers, Melange. They run a gamut of weird urban/psychological, scif-fi futurism, alt world Fantasy.
  • I wrote a draft of ‘The Witch Way’, a Fantasy short story  at 5,000 words and in need of an edit.
  • I completed a draft of ‘Leaving the Farm’ which had been kicking around in my head and on my computer for years, never really having much structure or purpose. It’s 2150 words and not really genre fiction at all to be honest, straight up Lit Fic with a rural bent.
  • I did a heck of a lot of reading: Chuck Wendig’s Bad Blood, Shotgun Gravy, Bait Dog, Blackbirds, and Mockingbird; Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country; Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns (and currently reading King). Reviews to come.
  • And I sent out a query email for Exile, in the hope that an agent may be interested.

An agent was, and requested chapters, and so I’ve sent them now. I’m cautious and nervous and excited and apprehensive and uncertain and hopeful and worried and blasé… all at once or vacillating between the states. In one sense it’s not a step I haven’t reached (and stumbled upon) before, but I feel it’s progress. The last time an agent requested chapters it was on the basis of a face-to-face meeting, not so in this case. The agent currently considering my submission asked to see more based solely on the few paragraphs into which I distilled my novel. So that’s a good thing, to know that the query email worked, to know that I can pique the interest.

All in all a productive month, especially as I look back on it now. So what’s in store for this month? I hope to edit those two stories that are complete drafts, and to send them out. I have a list of markets to which I can submit (thanks Peter M Ball and  Alan Baxter) and I intend to put that list to use… and of course to check my emails obsessively, in the hope of good news.


Genrecon 2013

Well people Genrecon’s inaugural event in 2012 was one of the highlights of my year and was a real kick-starter to help me get serious about the craft and business of writing. It introduced me to some wonderful writers at various stages of their careers, from fellow amateurs with an ambitious pitch to professionally published authors, self-published authors, agents, editors, publishers, international award winning best sellers. It had it all, and while it certainly fired my enthusiasm and drive it also opened my misted eyes to some of the harsh realities which lie behind the dreams of auctorial super-stardom.

So it is with great excitement that I receive the news that Genrecon 2013 is up and running. The start of the guest list was announced today and none other than Chuck Wendig is one of the International guests. I’ve mentioned his work and his website here before. I’m a big fan. When I came away from 2012 and thought about who would make a great guest for 2013 Chuck Wendig was right at the top of the list. I and several others tweeted as much at the time and if you don’t believe me check the records.

So what a year 2013. Neil Gaiman was here recently. China Mieville’s at Perth Festival (unfortunately I won’t get to go to see him, unless I make some irresponsibly hasty decision to skip work and fly across the continent).Apparently as part of the Supernovas and as side shows both Raymond E Feist and George R R Martin will be in Australia this year. It’s like my bookshelf come to life.

So check out Genrecon 2013 people, but not yet. Wait until I get in on the early bird special, then you can check it out.


Gender, History and Fantasy

This one’s a multi-headed beast, so bear with me.

I guess this has been percolating away since I read The Mary Sue article  exposing James Gunn’s misogyny and homphobia. I’ve gotta say it took a lot of the shine off the Guardians of the Galaxy announcement.

Then I became aware of The Hawkeye Initiative on Tumblr, which does a disturbingly good job of depicting the inherent problems with the portrayal of female superheroes (and villains) as objects posing sexily (in impractical outfits).

I’ve been trying to sort out my thoughts on the matter and apply them to the world of Fantasy Fiction… but then Tansy Raynor Roberts up and does a better job than I could have done in her blogpost picked up by Tor.com.

At the same time(ish) Cracked.com publishes Luke McKinney’s article about the ridiculousness of calling out fangirls.

So I’m left with little to say, having to follow in the footsteps of those who have said it so well already. But when has that ever stopped me having my say?

In my own work I thought I had drafted a strong female character. She was a POV character (in a novel with several POV characters) and she was smart and independent and strong. The reader would have known this because I attached these adjectives to her repeatedly. I did this while she was pushed through a narrative in which she showed almost no agency, made no meaningful decisions for herself, was considered (by a patriarchal culture) to be superfluous, and appeared in scenes where women discussed what men did. But she was sassy. And I did several times describe her as strong, independent and smart.

The reviews from my test-readers (and one in particular) forced me to sit back and look, really look, at what I had written for her. I didn’t like what I saw. So changes were made and I believe there has been much improvement. I have also given another character gender re-assignment, and this has been one of my personal favourite improvements in the rewriting.

Ellen Ripley was, in an early draft, a male. (S)He was to be the ship’s security officer (an obviously male role on the ship) and would probably have been cast by an athletic, muscled square jawed type, who would have killed the Alien and survived (with or without the grey panties – damn you Hawkeye! Must you ruin everything?) to fight another day. And the film wouldn’t have been terrible, but I doubt it would have been as good. It certainly wouldn’t have featured in articles in The Guardian celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ‘first action heroine’.
Why does Ripley endure so long after the two Alien films were made? (There were only two weren’t there – I’m pretty sure that’s right) I believe it’s because she wasn’t written as a gender stereotype. She’s a woman, but she’s not defined by that, and nor is she the pendulum reaction of Velasquez in Aliens (who is one of my favourite characters, but in many ways just a different stereotype).

The film Salt is forgettable (I’m not even sure I’ve seen the whole thing, I’ve seen bits), but it is interesting for the fact that the central character was written as a man. Tom Cruise was meant for the role, but withdrew because it was too close to his MI character of Ethan Hunt. At the same time Angelina Jolie was determined that she didn’t want to be a Bond girl – she wanted to be Bond. So a chance came up for her to be the action hero. Contracts were signed, but the deadlines were looming and there wasn’t time for a full re-write. They started shooting with the script for a male Salt and a few shifted pronouns (they did manage to take Salt’s children away from him/her – because while it’s ok for a father to risk his life as a CIA Agent fighting Russians a mother would never do such a thing – so it’s not perfect). The outcome is a film in which the character is played by a female, but not saddled with the gender stereotypes that are written for Strong Female Protagonists. (and some confusing scenes where a rake thin Angelina overpowers goons with brute force).

I met Tansy RR at Genrecon recently (in the sense that I nervously said hello once or twice and joined in a conversation with about ten people – of which she was one). Her take on history is fantastic – and backed up by an impressive academic resume. If history is sexist, so be it. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t stories in which women played important roles. Hell, that doesn’t mean there weren’t women playing important roles in every story. It just means they were ignored. To take that fact and use it to justify continuing to ignore them is reflexive… and just straight-up dumb.

But even if we take patriarchal history as a basis, why should that apply to Fantasy? When Joe Abercrombie spoke at Genrecon he described his work as ‘Realistic Fantasy’ and admitted the concept sounded silly. I was relieved – I’ve been trying to define my own writing for some time now and I kept coming back to ‘Realistic Fantasy’ and getting caught in the oxymoron. The point is that as realistic as we want it to be its still our world to build. If Joe can be inspired by history and then have a character using magic spells to defeat his enemies then why is having a powerful woman going to break the story. How could a reader complain that women have too prominent a role on the basis of history, and yet happily accept the wizards?

And don’t think it doesn’t happen. Some readers make this complaint. It’s ignorant on two counts:

1. History is full of women doing cool stuff that could be the basis of Fantasy novels.

I’ll skip Cleopatra and move straight on to Lucretia, Cornelia, Vibia Sabina, Boadicea, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Theodora, Catherine II of Russia, Queen Elizabeth the First! – and that’s just Western Europe. A quick googling will open up possible tales inspired by Hatshpsut (a female Pharaoh) or Empress Wu Zetian. Hell, tell Penelope’s story. Sure she’s just waiting at home for Odysseus, entertaining courtiers, but surely there’s an interesting tale to be told there. Tell the story of Queen Gorgo – just not one where she gets boned by Jimmy McNulty.

2. It’s Fantasy.

History might have cast women in certain roles, but the history of my fictional world has not – or more accurately it has cast them in different roles. And even if it’s a misogynist fictional world with a patriarchal hegemony, good fiction will come from the conflict of putting a powerful woman in there. How will she cope? How will society cope? What cracks will emerge? What conflicts? Will she be defeated? Forced into submission? Will the power structures shift, compromise? Will she inspire a revolution? This is what drives narrative. This is what makes it a fictional story worth the reading.

I’ll leave the last word to Scott Lynch, who here responds to complaints about one of the female characters in his second ‘Gentleman Bastard’ novel Red Seas under Red Skies.

Comment, criticise, condemn, condone, as you will.

Or debate me face-to-digital-face / pat my back on twitter @jmichaelmelican