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Thursday, October 29, 2020

World Fantasy Convention 2020 - Day 1!

At the start of this year, I was hoping to attend one science fiction convention, ConZealand, this year’s Worldcon. Due to COVID 19 the face to face con couldn’t happen, but as you will know from earlier posts here, the committee rejigged the whole thing and went virtual - and others have done the same. As a result, I have been able to enjoy conventions I would never be able to travel to. I was able to do NASFIC for free, a generous offer by the con committee. 

And today I began my third convention for the year, the World Fantasy Convention, something I have only ever heard of, never attended. 

Due to the difference in time zones(we are 17 hours ahead of Salt Lake City in Utah), it was still Wednesday over there when they held their pre-con workshops, so not really Day 1, but for me it was Day 1, and much enjoyed.

The first webinar, which I saw at 6.00 am my time, was World Building, by David Farland(the pen name of David Wolverton) a man who has done a huge amount of it in his writing life, which has included writing Star Wars novels and bestselling novels in his own worlds, teaching creative writing at university, judging, film production and editing. I confess I’d never heard of him, but he was very interesting and entertaining to hear, and I felt I was learning a lot. Even for his Star Wars novel The Courtship Of Princess Leia he created a planet of his own.

World building, he told us, can be as big as a planet or as small as a room, and should show only the tip of the iceberg. He spoke of the worlds of Dune and Middle-Earth, and pointed out that yes, Tolkien wrote classics, but spent so many years creating his world that he didn’t have time to write much else besides the two novels for which he is famous. I do see his point, though I remember Frank Herbert, whom I met at a session at Space Age Bookshop in Melbourne, saying that he had not written a single world of his classic novel Dune till he had the universe completely worked out. And it’s the only book I have ever compared in my mind to Lord Of The Rings, due to the amazing world building, though I prefer the Tolkien book because I loved the characters, while I didn’t particularly like the characters in Dune

But as a pantser, not a plotter, I feel there is much to be said for doing your research, yes, then just getting on with the story bubbling in your mind. I would certainly never get anything written if I did all the work Herbert did before writing my book! 

He went on to talk about all the details you really need to consider when creating your world, whether it’s a planet or a generation spaceship. Even a fantasy world needs to make sense physically. He did say a planet with multiple moons was okay, as long as you had them far enough from each other in orbit not to break each other up. Nice to know, as my world in Wolfborn had three moons, and I hoped it was correctly worked out. 

He had got as far as animals and plants when he was given his ten minute warning. This was a two hour session, but not finished. I would have loved to hear more, or at least see the rest of the slides, which looked intriguing! 

I had time to get up and do a few necessary things while listening to the second session, by David Butler, on query letters, whether for publishers or agents. That was also entertaining and useful. David, another very successful writer, gave sound advice about what to put in and what absolutely not to put in, and why. He said that when you send a query, it should, if possible, contain three paragraphs, 1. This story sounds good. 2. Ooh, this story sounds really good and 3. Business. He got us, as an exercise, to do 1 and 3. Number 1 was basically the sort of thing English teachers tell you to do - the character wants something badly, has a problem achieving it, so sets off on the quest because if they fail there will be consequences. I used this template to write a three sentence blurb for Wolfborn, and he liked it. 

He said this blurb was an exercise his wife’s agent makes her do every time. Number 3 was Business, where you tell them how long the story is, whether it is stand alone or is part of a series, or has potential for a series and paste in the first ten pages, and ask if they want to see the rest. You do not tell them you once had drinks with them at a bar or mention the name of someone famous they represent(why should they invest time in your first novel when they have that big name as a client? Especially if you have written the same type of fiction Famous Author writes!). It’s all common sense.

He said you should keep sending inquiries to agents who don’t answer until they say no. He also mentioned Publishers Marketplace - expensive if you keep subscribing, but you can invest the price of a book in a month’s subscription and use it to find a list of agents to query. They are all professionals, and none of them is running a scam - they are vetted before being included. 

He sent us three templates he uses - of course, I included my email address in the list when he offered.

My final session was a 50 minute panel on the subject of horses. It was three horse-expert ladies, led by Joyce Reynolds-Ward. It was very useful, like the others, and my friend, Gillian Polack, who was in the audience, gave some links to historical coach timetables, much like bus timetables, which gave some idea of how long it would take to get between various places in England.

If you write fantasy fiction you have to use horses sooner or later, let’s face it! And they are all too often treated as furry machines. They need a lot of food and drink. They have to graze to get fibre - oats are not enough. There was talk about how, no, horses are not like dogs, though some authors make them that way, because dogs are predator animals, while horses are prey animals. 

This panel went for 50 minutes. Again, I enjoyed and felt I had learned something new.

Tomorrow morning I’ve set the alarm for even earlier than today, 5.00 am, for a session on Collecting First Editions. It is being presented by Ken Sanders, who is on Antiques Roadshow, and knows a lot about rare books. 

At 8.00 am our time the Virtual Book Bag will  be open and I will have access to a huge number of free ebooks! 

Oh, and I have already bought my first book for this con, a horse-themed story by Joyce Reynolds-Ward.

With all those freebies, surely I won’t be buying more?  

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

An Interview With Will Kostakis

Aussie writer Will Kostakis is the author of several YA novels and some short fiction. His first novel, Loathing Lola, was published when he was in his teens. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at the Centre for Youth Literature at Melbourne’s State Library when only his first book had been published. Since then, every book has been different from the one before, and it has always been a pleasure to discover something new with each. 

The Sidekicks was published in 2016 and is about three schoolboys mourning the death of a mutual friend. I reviewed it here.

The First Third, which was very popular at my school, is about a Greek boy carrying out his grandmother’s bucket list wishes, to get his family together again. Here is what I had to say about it.

I bought his fantasy novel Monuments at the Melbourne Writers Festival last year, and reviewed it here. We didn’t have to wait too long for the sequel, Rebel Gods, which came out in August this year. I thoroughly enjoyed both books. 

 I don’t want to go into too much detail about Monuments here, in case you haven’t read it and want to, because spoilers, but my review will give you enough information to go on with. 

Today, Will has been kind enough to answer some questions about the duology. Here they are! 

GR: Let’s start with a basic question: how did you get the idea for this duology?

As a kid, my mind would wander. I would press my head against the window of Sydney trains and imagine a sprawling fantasy epic playing out across its rooftops. It was never anything particularly well-formed, and then as I started to tour schools and hear the different rumours about each campus, I realised there was a fantasy idea there: kids raiding the secret dungeons under high schools.

GR: Although all your books are different from each other, they have all, so far, been contemporary fiction. What made you decide to have a go at fantasy? 

I had that idea, but I was fearful of giving it a crack. It helped that after the one-two punch of The First Third and The Sidekicks I was worn out. I needed to write something that would make my teenage heart sing. So I returned to that fantasy epic I was dreaming up… What if gods were real and they had been hidden beneath Sydney’s schools, only to be discovered by teenagers.

GR: Many YA fantasy novels either kill off the parents early on, or send them off somewhere far away so that the hero/heroine can get on with their adventures. What made you decide to allow two of your three main characters to have families - and give the parents personalities of their own?

At first, I thought Monuments (at least, the first book), would be almost parent-less. The gods would be the only family I explored. I quickly realised that it felt hollow. My family has played such an important part of my life, writing an absent parent story felt unpleasant to me. So I beefed up Connor’s mother’s role, and it was like the novel came alive. One of my goals with Rebel Gods was to flesh Locky out, he was no longer the “love interest” we’ve known for three days. I felt it was important to see how his family informed his worldview, in the same way that Connor’s informed his. It was also important that Sally, who tragically lost both her parents, was given a story that trended towards hope and healing, and becoming a sister to Connor and looking to his mum as a mother figure was a part of that. Long story short, I set out to write a story that wasn’t family-focused, realised families are a big part of what make my books my books, and then wrote two family-focused books with gods in them. 

 GR: You have three very different protagonists in these two books. They have to learn to work together quickly, very soon after they meet, yet have different ways of seeing the world. Tell us about Sally, Locky and Connor - and did you plan them out as characters who would be able to work together to save the world? 

I always pictured our three heroes would work together to save the world – and have a few arguments in the process, so they needed to be distinct. They are each quite driven characters, but driven by different things: Connor by family, Locky by politics and Sally by grief. Who they are as characters sprouted from there.

GR Is any of the incident where Locky plants that rainbow lawn and annoys the Red Fern pastor inspired by real world incidents you know of? Obviously not the magic, but a late-night guerrilla action of some sort. 

It isn’t inspired by one particular incident … More a shout-out to moments of rebellion.

GR: Sydney is almost a character in these two books. How much is real and how much imagined? For example, how many of those places where the Monuments are hidden are based on real places?

The hiding places are inspired by different schools I’ve visited, some merged together, others poorly disguised. But overall, I tried to capture Sydney in its ordinary 2020 splendour, so that there was something for the fantasy elements to pop off.

GR:: Are you considering having another go at writing fantasy? If so, tell us about it. 

I would love to return to fantasy some day, but I’ve scratched that itch for the moment. I have a few ideas percolating, but I’m desperate to return to contemporary. The world has changed so much since I wrote The Sidekicks (released early 2016) that I really want to dive into realism again. 

GR: Are you basically a plotter or a pantser? Or something in between? You would, of course, have had to plan out Monuments and Rebel Gods to make them work, but are you the sort of writer who prepares elaborate detailed plots or just rough outlines? 

I plotted the duology extensively, then Monuments changed so radically in editing that my plan for Rebel Gods had to be tossed out. I’ve found what works for me is: settle of 10 essential scenes and an ending, and thread the needle between them. 

GR: What are you working on now? 

I just completed The Greatest Hit, a novella partly set during the Melbourne lockdown, which is out October 27 that I am incredibly excited for people to read. There are a few projects I’m tinkering away on, but mostly, I’m focusing on getting some rest. It’s been a taxing year, professionally and obviously personally (points to everything 2020), so I want to pace myself a little. But you won’t have to wait long for a new book, promise.

Thank you so much, Will, for your great interview. That is especially amazing about your having done such a major re-vamp of your first book and your plans for the second! 

If you’d like to to get these, or any of Will’s other books, they are available in ebook format either in Apple Books( ePub) or Kindle, but the paperbacks are also available at any good online store, except, for the moment, Book Depository, which is out of stock with Rebel Gods, but does have everything else.  

Friday, October 02, 2020

Just Finished Reading...Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. New York: HarperCollins, 2016

     I confess I bought this book because the trailers for the TV series looked interesting - and scary! I still haven’t seen the show, as I don’t have the pay TV service that would let me watch it, but I can wait.

     Meanwhile, I have just finished the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I have to say, it’s not particularly scary. It’s good fun. Yes, there are a few monsters from the Dawnatime, as you’d expect from anything with the name Lovecraft in the title, but they are nowhere near as frightening as the racist humans encountered by the main characters. 

     This is not so much a novel as a series of linked stories, each seen from the viewpoint of a different character introduced early in the book, in the first, title story. 

     The year is 1954. Young African American Korean War veteran Atticus Turner is returning to Chicago, his home town, after an unpleasant time spent in Florida, which is part of Jim Crow country. He has a frightening encounter on the way - oh, and also meets some Lovecraft type monsters.

     Atticus is a science fiction/fantasy fan, as is his uncle George, so they both know a Lovecraft creature when they see one. Atticus, George and Letitia, a childhood friend of Atticus, go in search of Montrose, Atticus’s father, who has been kidnapped, and find an over-the-top lodge of sorcerers, the Order of the Ancient Dawn, who want Atticus, not Montrose...

     Each main character who appears or is mentioned in this story gets a viewpoint story of their own. They are good, strong characters, who deal with the issues thrown at them, and in the end, it’s not the ghosties and ghoulies who are the problem, but humans. 

     There is a sort-of-villain who isn’t all that villainous, really, or not towards the black characters, anyway. He does pressure them to do things for him that he can’t do, but compensates them well. However, they find him more annoying than scary. 

     I won’t say more, because of spoilers, but it’s well worth a read, unless you are a devoted horror fan, in which case you might find it not scary enough. I don’t think it’s intended to be too terrifying.

     You should be able to buy it in the usual on-line bookshops; I bought mine on Apple Books, which also has audiobook, but if you want a print edition, or Kindle, that will be easily available too.   


And The Last Trump Shall Sound: A Future History Of America, Caezik, 2020


 This is three linked novellas by that master of alternative universe, Harry Turtledove, author James Morrow and former SFWA president Cat Rambo, who wrote a guest post here on the release of her novel Hearts Of Rabat.

     The premise: in the near future, Trump is dead, from a second wave of COVID 19, and Mike Pence is President. A number of West Coast states have seceded and formed a new country, Pacifica. 

     The first story, “The Breaking Of Nations” by Harry Turtledove, is seen from the viewpoint of Nicole Yoshida, former Governor of California, now leading the group of states seceding from the US, where things have become very bad. It’s the set-up story, so has the heavy lifting to do in this book. But as it is the set-up story, you have to assume that the secession will work out, as it does. 

     James Morrow’s “The Purloined Republic” is a quirky, humorous tale set a couple of years after Pacifica begins. In it, Polly Nightingale, a former porn star, now running an experimental theatre in Los Angeles, is commissioned to carry out a job that might make a huge difference and persuade more states to leave the US.  She is offered enough money to keep her theatre going. 

     The job? To impersonate the President’s spiritual adviser, Walker Lambert, who has been captured and is imprisoned in Pacifica. She resembles him enough that some Hollywood make up and prosthetics will help her pretend to be a man. The plan is to make Pence look crazy enough to sow doubt about him. 

     The story is hilariously over the top, and is my favourite in the book.

     Finally Cat Rambo contributes “Because It Is Bitter”, a story seen from the viewpoint of GoogleSoft tech Ernst, who has been sneaking in his own research during work time, to complete his late grandmother’s project, involving an empathy serum. When all his files and notes are stolen in a break-in at his office, he must follow the woman he believes has stolen them over the border from Pacifica to the US. There, only six years after the split, the situation has become very bad indeed. Pacifica has its problems, but the US is far worse. 

     And Ernst discovers why he was really lured over the border, and it isn’t pretty...

     I enjoyed the book, though it was scary because so many elements were so very believable. The technology in Cat Rambo’s story was more developed than I would have thought possible in the fifteen-odd years between now and the time of this story, but who knows? After all, only a few years ago Skype was a lot more fiddly to access than it is now, and the Internet as we know it has not been around that long. So, why not? 

     I bought my copy on Apple Books, but it should be easily available on the usual web sites, including Amazon and the Book Depository.