Category Archives: fiction

The value of persistence

IMG_20180420_072542So I’m posting here a photo of my Sir Julius Vogel award. It’s cool, and I guess I’m bragging a bit. But see those three folders underneath? Those are my rejection slips. You know, the letter you get from a publisher who for one reason or another isn’t taking your story. Gathered over more years than I care to admit.

I think there are about two thousand. I have a feeling I’ve lost some over the years.

Most of them are form rejections. Some are very nice personal rejections. One is a disappointingly rude personal rejection (I haven’t submitted to that magazine since).

And there, standing on the shoulders of all those rejections, is an award. To me this is the value of persistence. I mean this to be encouraging. Keep at it. Keep going. Pursue what you love doing. It’s not about the award (though that’s nice), it’s about loving doing it.

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The Map Maker of Morgenfeld

The Map Maker of Morgenfeld thumb

I have a new novel out, and this one has a bunch of intriguing things about it. Intriguing to me, anyway.

First, it’s a fantasy, which I don’t often write. That said, there are no wizards or magic or dragons, no vast armies of conquest, no hero smiting demons with a terrible swift sword. This novel grows out of my younger self’s love of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series (I even shamelessly bastardized the name).
My style is very different from Peake’s. Well, of course, writing has changed over the years, and while Peake wrote some wonderful books, they are a product of their period. I like to think I’ve captured something of their essence in my own world.

Secondly, I wrote the novel while traveling. In April and May of 2017 we had a fabulous voyage to Santiago, Easter Island, the Atacama Desert, Quito and the Galapagos Islands. Almost six weeks away.

I wrote every day. Usually stolen moments in the evenings, at kitchen tables, or in dining rooms. Once or twice in noisy cafes.

The trip was awesome. But it was cool to maintain that writing momentum throughout. Especially with the focus on a project. I suppose elements of South American culture and lifestyle may well be wrapped up somewhere in the book.
Thirdly, or perhaps this should be my first item, I wrote the novel on a phone. We traveled light. Carry-on luggage only. Taking a laptop, with a bulky charger, would have been a nuisance. I discovered the cool little Rapoo bluetooth keyboard. I bought the Docs2go app, which allowed me to format the document nicely as I went, and also to track my word count.

I designed and 3D-printed a stand for the phone. I bought a travel wallet, one intended for money and cards and documents, and used that to create a neat little package for the keyboard, stand and phone so they could all just drop into my backpack easily.

All of those elements make The Map Maker of Morgenfeld perhaps my most unusual novel so far. I’m sure that traveling influenced the writing. I’m sure that the restriction of the phone influenced the writing.

I hope it all worked out into a readable, enjoyable book.
The cover illustration is near-perfect for me anyway. By Grandfailure | Dreamstime. It really shows the clutter and maze of Morgenfeld better than I’d pictured it.

Available all over, in print ($12.99), and as an ebook ($5.99), KindleSmashwords, and so on.

Q&A with me at Asimov’s From Earth to the Stars editor’s blog

asimovs march april 2018I neglected to give anything more than a passing mention that I got interviewed at the Asimov’s blog, specifically about my story in the March April 2018 issue.

The interview is here. I talk with the editors about my process for creating “The Billows of Sarto”, and my general writing process, and a few other things.

Check out the other interviews on the site too. You’ll build up a pretty good picture of authors writing for Asimov’s today.

 

My story “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles” wins the Sir Julius Vogel Award

asimovs-cover-jan-2016
A few weeks back I mentioned that I was honoured to be a finalist for New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award in short story category, for my Asimov’s story “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles”.
Well it turns out that, ahem, another small miracle has occurred; the story won the award. I’m amazed and surprised. The other stories on the ballot (at least those I had the chance to read) were excellent, and the authors of those stories read like a who’s-who of New Zealand science fiction: Grace Bridges, A.J. Fitzwater, Andi Buchanan, Octavia Cade.smFront-v5

Yeah.

With other commitments, I was elsewhere during the presentations, but I thank Lee Murray for collecting the award and reading my little speech.
This is my third time on the final ballot, so it’s heartening to pick up a win.
My congratulations to the other winners – a full list here: SJV Winners 2018.
Great to see some others I know in there: Darian, Dan and Lee, and Grace, but well done all.

sjv winners 1

I will be publishing the story as a standalone ebook (and print) in the near future, with a wonderful alternative cover by Maurizio Manzieri.
And, while I’m sharing good news, I have signed the contract for another story, titled “Ventiforms”, set in the same universe, which will be coming out in Asimov’s either later this year or early next year. More news on that closer to the time.

Manzieri_CrimsonBirds_previewb

Writing sales copy – still learning

I like to think that I’m growing and learning as a writer (and despite a string of university qualifications, I’m starting to  wonder if I’m a slow learner. Perhaps a topic for another post). As I learn, I hope I’m getting better a writing blurbs. Blurbs are a whole other language (did I mention somewhere that I struggle with learning languages?).

Stories seem to fall out of me, yet blurbs are more like that old story about pulling teeth.

It strikes me that a blurb, as in sales copy, must describe the book, but not reveal the book. They must be punchy. Rather than saying, ‘well, you might enjoy this book’, they should say, in effect, ‘READ THIS NOW! Your life depends on it!’ I’ve been looking back over some of my blurbs and starting to get a sense of how they miss that. By a wide mark. Sometimes wide means something like the gulf between galaxies.Raven Rising thumb

My recent book Raven Rising started out with this goofy blurb:

“Practically swallowed up by alien forest, the wreck of the Raven offers few clues to the team eager to discover why the ship wrecked so violently. Crack investigator Angelie Gunnarson faces an enormous task. Will she be able to find the answers before time runs out? An action-packed short sci-fi novel from the award-winning
author of The City Builders.”

I think this blurb has some good moments (the last sentence kind of works), but frankly overall it’s pedestrian. Where’s the good reason why a reader might be interested in the book?

All right then, I’ve had a go at another iteration:

“Light years from home, Starship Raven went down in an plunging blazing wreck. Crack investigator Angelie Gunnarson and her team love this kind of impossible mystery. But the Raven might have more secrets than even Angelie can handle. An action-packed short sci-fi novel from the award-winning author of The City Builders.”

Hmm. Not quite sure yet. Don’t quite know what the next iteration will be.

I am, however, going to take a course in Writing Sales Copy, to see if I can’t get a better handle on this.

Then of course there’s work to do on the covers… and all the time work to do on the craft of writing too…

All this is pretty fun.

Raven Rising, my second novel for 2018, is out.

Raven Rising thumbI’ve published my shortest novel to date. Is that something to brag about? Not sure. I do like Dean Wesley Smith’s philosophy that a story is the length the story needs to be, rather than pushing to hit some arbitrary wordcount. I think I hear that a hundred thousand words is where a novel should aim.

Well, my story, Raven Rising didn’t need a hundred thousand. Or even fifty thousand. More like thirty-two thousand. Too long to be a novella, but still short for a novel.

This might be more like those “Bookshots” from James Patterson. Little standalone books, full of adventure. Though mine is very much science fiction. Not really the thriller, or similar stories in those books. Deep space science fiction at that.

Cover illustration © Philcold | Dreamstime

Blurb: Light years from home, Starship Raven went down in a plunging blazing wreck. Crack investigator Angelie Gunnarson and her team love this kind of impossible mystery. But the Raven might have more secrets than even Angelie can handle. An action-packed short sci-fi novel from the award-winning author of The City Builders.

Coming up soon, a post about just how hard I find it to write decent sales copy. It uses a different part of the brain, I’m thinking.

Anyway, Raven Rising is available from various retailers, (link goes to books 2 read universal page, then on to retailers – still learning about that one too). The print version will be available soon. ebook $5.99, print will be $9.99.

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Asimov’s Readers’ poll.

asimovs-cover-jan-2016Asimov’s Science Fiction hold reader polls each year – where readers get the chance to vote for their favorite story from the past year’s issues.

I’m honored that my story “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles” is a finalist in the short story category. Amazed really.

The full list of finalists, in all categories is on the Asimov’s website.

The story is also a finalist in New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards, so I’m doubly honored.

And, triply cool is that the fabulous cover image by artist Maurizio Manzieri for the story is also a finalist in the Asimov’s Awards. I’ll be releasing the story later in the year as a standalone ebook, with an alternative illustration that Maurizio has graciously licensed to me.

Exciting times. Fingers crossed.

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As a bonus, most of the stories are available for a limited time to read online for free at the site.