Clowns and Vampires and Carnivals and Trains

Christmas is upon us, and Death Moots, and Birthdays – I’m crashing through my forties at an insane rate (still a lot of them to go though).

Next year is going to be all about clowns and vampires and carnivals and trains. I’m just finishing up drafts of the next Death Works stuff, and I’ve a rough outline (as in something kind of clear in my head about the final Death Works story – which will be called the Triumph of Death, and which I should finish next year, and which should be a truly satisfying way to see out a series that has been in my head for over a decade).

This has been an odd year for me. Working on Day Boy, trying to get the next Death Works story done (Carnival of Death), and fitting it around longer hours at Avid – a boy needs to pay his bills. In some ways it’s felt like a step forwards and a step or two back.

But, I’m very happy with what I’m writing, and I work in one of the best bookstores in Australia, in the most wonderful city, with some of the lovelietst booksellers you could ever hope to work with. So, to be honest, I am feeling kind of blessed.

After a few fallow years, a few missteps, and a bit of a breakdown, things feel like they’re heading on the up again.

So, may 2015 be a wonderful year for us all.

Here’s the rough unedited beginning to the prequel story to the Carnival of Death – I’ve always wanted to do one of those X-files like openings. It’s called ICE. Just a teensy bit of a weird intro to an even weirder Death Works story, got some full on cosmic horror/comedy (hopefully) coming.

I.C.E.

 

Ray checked the clip of his pistol. Full round, special munitions, ready to go. He wasn’t feeling lucky today. He suspected he might have to use it.

“I don’t like guns up here,” the pilot said.

“I don’t like pilots with opinions.”

The pilot laughed.

They’d been in the air for hours. Ray had forgotten the pilot’s name. He didn’t really care.

“Putting the gun away,” he said.

“See if you can find your sense of humour when you do,” he said.

“I’ll look for yours while I’m at it.”

“Right now your life is in my hands,” the pilot said.

“You don’t think I know how to fly a plane?” Ray lied.

The pilot shrugged. “You Special Interest Guys, who the fuck knows what you know.”

Ray smiled.”Which is exactly how it should be.”

The pilot smiled right back; both of them smiling like loons. “We’ll be hitting approach in about three minutes.” He gestured at the gear. “So, unless you want to have the honour, I suggest you shut the fuck up.”

 

 

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Krissy Kneen – Opening Credits

9781922079381I’m posting a few things from other people up here, while I sink into the insane retail busyness that is Christmas.

Basically, I’ve asked some friends to shoot me a small slice of something that they’re passionate about and that will be coming out in 2015 (because, well, 2014 is getting old, and I’m all about the shiny, and I have a book I’m VERY excited about coming out in 2015).

First up is Krissy Kneen, who is a workmate at Avid, a wonderful award winning writer and poet. She is also one of the hardest working writers I know, not just in the writing that she does, but in her tireless promotion and support of other writers. She’s bloody awesome.

She has two books out next year – one through Text  and the other through UQP –   and I can’t wait to read them.

 

Oh, and this poem by Krissy is rather brilliant.

 

Opening Credits
I cry in the cinema
Or not cry
So hard that my head aches with the holding back
Not in the film
When those beside me weep
Manipulated by the stranglehold of  act three turning point catharsis
Or at the mid point
When the protagonist learns
That he has been pursuing a false solution and must change his quest
Not at the deaths or at the terminally ill
Not I
Instead I cry
Before the opening credits
In the add for a telephone company
Or an airline
Or a tablet
When the child calls his father
Or runs into his arms
Family the copywriter throws at us
And I, resentfully shed tears
Reverting to my fatherless self
A child
Who never seemed to mind
Until
This celluloid manipulation
Ambushes me with canned sentiment
And a small child
Held up to a low angle close up
Of manufactured paternal love
Before the opening credits.

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Keith Stevenson, Guest Blogging – Character Building: Meet the Crew

I’ve known Keith Stevenson for a long time, he’s a great editor (I’m biased, he’s published some of my best stories), and a fabulous writer.

Check out the cover of his novel below. It’s a damn fine thing. Now, over to Keith -

Horizon

 

I’d like to thank Trent for giving over some space on his blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.

 

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by HarperVoyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.

 

A lot of the action in Horizon takes place inside the cramped confines of the Magellan explorer ship, so the interactions between the characters are intense. As part of the development process, I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted Horizon to be about. This was my first attempt at writing a science fiction novel, and I knew from the start that I wanted to explore a number of scientific concepts relating to space travel, planetary exploration and alien environments. But I also wanted to make sure my characters were as ‘real’ as possible. Here’s an extract from my original proposal:

 

While the plot will be the main driver, the characterisation will also play a major part in developing the themes of the story. The characters will not follow the stereotypic ‘space hero’ mould. As much as possible they will be real people with hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses placed in an extraordinary situation. Specifically, their characterisation will be used to explore:

  • the reasons individuals may have for abandoning a life on Earth for an extremely dangerous mission from which they may never return
  • the feelings of loss etc. that they experience when they are faced with the reality of being fifty-five years out of step with the rest of humanity and the culture clash that this involves
  • the paranoia, mistrust and power struggles that can emerge very quickly even among the most well-balanced individuals, and
  • how the characters face the ethical dilemma of being asked to help a humanity that some of them no longer feel any connection with, and what they must do in order to live with their decision.

 

So let’s meet the crew.

 

Flight Commander Cait Dyson — Mission Leader / Astro Sciences (Pax Americana)

‘Earth, the Pax and the Compact are light years away now. There’s only us, and we need to depend on one another, because at any instant our lives can turn on what each individual does.’

 

When we first meet Cait, she’s choking to death and her ship is out of control. Yet she manages to deal with the immediate dangers and rouse the rest of the crew. She’s more than competent in a crisis, but she’s increasingly isolated as the mission unfolds and she doesn’t always trust her own judgement. Several times she wishes she could just give up, but she knows none of the other crew are up to the task: either because they lack the perspective a commander needs or because they just can’t be trusted. Before the flight began, some at Mission Control thought she was too indecisive, but Cait has her own way of dealing with problems. She prefers not to act until absolutely necessary, waiting and watching as issues play out so she can identify the most effective intervention at the right time. Despite what she might think of her own abilities, she is a great leader, willing to put her own personal interests and fears aside and look at problems from all possible perspectives. She believes in ‘win-win’ but others among the crew, and on Earth, don’t necessarily support her efforts to achieve it.

 

Mission Specialist Nadira Coomlah — Planetary Physics / Climatology (Compact of Asian Peoples)

‘It sickens me that people with so much can want so much more, while we had so little and shared what little we had.’

 

Nadira was a late addition to the Magellan crew, and not a popular one. History between the United Pacific States and the Compact has been complicated in the decades leading up to Magellan’s launch [see my post Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow on Lee Battersby’s blog on 6 November], and during the initial outward leg of the trip before the crew went into deepsleep, the thin veneer of civility between the UPS crewmembers and Nadira rapidly broke down. The fact that Nadira is rightly proud of the Compact’s achievements and how it has raised the living standards of the poorest nations in the world, despite what she sees as UPS antagonism, does not endear her further to the crew. Cait alone does her best to build a common understanding with Nadira, particularly when the news they receive from Earth on waking brings a whole new, and potentially destructive, political dynamic to shipboard life. Despite the hostility directed at her, particularly from Mission Specialist Tom Harris, but also from Lex Daziel, Nadira is an effective member of the crew and works diligently on her mission goals, and it’s Nadira who first alerts the crew to the hypercane raging across the face of the planet Horizon, and the dangers that it poses to the viability of the world’s biosphere.

 

Mission Specialist Lex Dalziel — Life Sciences / Ship’s Medical Officer (European Union)

‘I didn’t travel all this way to put up with this sort of bullshit. I say we ignore the whole bloody broadcast. Earth’s too far away to bother about now.’

 

Although from an unspecified part of the European Union, in my mind, by name, and certainly by disposition, Lex is Scottish. A brilliant scientist, he could do a lot better in the social skills department, and he delights in setting up conflict among the crew just to see how it unfolds. But Lex also has some deeply held core principles which shape his actions. First and foremost he believes in the importance of the science he performs and the absolute necessity of ensuring the environment of Horizon is not contaminated as a result of the presence of Magellan. He also feels that — since Earth is a one hundred and ten year round trip away — the needs of Earth and whatever orders they may issue to the crew are a distant second to what he believes is right. When Earth re-establishes contact, and things don’t go the way he thinks they should, he challenges himself to show the courage of his convictions and for that he needs an ally. Cait and Lex were close on the initial outward journey until she understood his predilection for troublemaking. Now their relationship is difficult, and so he tries his best to enlist Mission Specialist Bren Thurgood, the bio-jack, to help him.

 

Mission Specialist Bren Thurgood — Computer Control / Remote Sensing (Pax Americana)

‘And now everyone needs me again. You, Cait, Earth . . . Where were all of you when I needed someone?’

 

Bren is a bio-jack, which means she has a chip in her head that lets her interact with and remotely control a range of ship’s systems. The transhumans of Earth’s future are often viewed with distrust and fear. Tom Harris is certainly no lover of bio-jacks and worries about Bren’s ability to ‘meddle’ with the systems he controls by more conventional methods. Bren was an unlikely addition to the crew, but Cait lobbied hard to have her included, firstly because she likes the younger woman, but also because they both had difficult upbringings in the desolate former USA. Bren feels like an orphan. Cut off from humanity because of the chip she carries, and cut off from other transhumans because of how far she’s travelled from Earth, she can only rely on herself.

 

Mission Specialist Tom Harris — Ship’s Drive / Life Support Systems (Pax Americana)

‘And as for the others . . . well, you know what I think about them, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself for the sake of shipboard harmony. As long as they do the same.’

 

Harris is a talented engineer. He understands technical systems a hell of a lot better than he understands people and he doesn’t have much time for the niceties of social interactions. He’s also an old-fashioned patriot and resents Nadira’s presence on board and Lex’s apparent disregard for the orders coming out of launch control. But for all his faults he’s a straight shooter and what you see is what you get. He recognises Cait is trying to do her best to follow mission requirements, and he respects the lengths she has to go to in order to bring the rest of the crew with her. He knows he couldn’t do what she does and so he does his best to support her, even though it’s hard to keep a lid on his own temper sometimes.

 

Phillips — Computer Interface Personality for Magellan

‘You have something that belongs to me, Thurgood. For everyone’s sake, I suggest you give it up.’

 

Modelled on Launch Director Dan Phillips of the Pax Air and Space Administration, Phillips is essential to Magellan’s operation, maintaining integrated control of all ship’s systems as well as balancing the drive and performing the billions of calculations required to create and control the pico-pulse thrust cascades that allow Magellan to travel at 0.6 lightspeed while ensuring the safety of the fragile humans on board. He’s also — when the crew wake from deepsleep — acting very strangely indeed.

 

And there you have it: five souls and one artificial intelligence as far away from the rest of humanity as you can imagine, with the fate of two planets hanging in the balance.

 

Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

 

3 November — Extract of Horizon — Voyager blog http://www.voyageronline.com.au/

4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — Trent Jamieson’s blog http://www.trentjamieson.com/

5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter http://www.darkmatterzine.com/

6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog http://battersblog.blogspot.com.au/

7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — Joanne Anderton’s blog http://joanneanderton.com/wordpress/

10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — Ben Peek’s blog http://benpeek.livejournal.com/

11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’s blog http://rjurik.com/

12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/

13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — Sean Wright’s blog http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/

14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — Greig Beck’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greig-Beck-Author/101428386583764

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog http://www.mariannedepierres.com/

 

Keith Stevenson is a science fiction author, editor, publisher and reviewer. His debut novel Horizon is available as an ebook via http://www.harpercollins.com.au/books/Horizon-Keith-Stevenson/?isbn=9781460704653

 

His blog is at http://keithstevensonwriter.blogspot.com.

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The Business of Death

The Business of Death is finally available in its own e-volume – ie not as part of the omnibus. While the omnibus still works out as better value, it is a rather pretty thing. Here’s the cover. I love the colour and the comet.Business of DeathSo, only three and bit years after it was released you can now buy it as an e-book. I’d have loved to have seen this on the shelves, but then again, I was so lucky to see the omnibus edition – and a truly different take on the cover (which I adore).

And the next Death Works book is coming along nicely, it’s much bigger than 4, definitely a novel (though a short one), and it’ll swing us around to the end of the third sequence – which may also be rather novely too. Oh, and I’ll be writing a sort of prologuish story for this one, too, IN THIRD PERSON AND PAST TENSE NO LESS!

I can’t wait for you all to read this new one, I think it’s a lot cheerier than the last two, and it’s filled with added new characters – who I very much have enjoyed hanging with. This world has been a part of my life for over half a decade now, and I get the feeling it will be for a while yet.

The thing about Death and Mortmax, and Steve and Lissa and Wal and Tim and Mr D and James and Anthony and Bernice (yes, see, new characters) is that they give me a hell* of a lot of room to explore pretty much whatever I want to (wait until I finally get to the knotworkers). And I get to write about my home town. Makes writing a damn fun thing indeed.

Oh and you can buy this old/new edition here for kobo

and here for amazon.com and amazon.com.au

If you’ve already bought the omnibus edition that is plenty. If you’ve bought any edition and liked it, please put up a review on the retailer’s site of your choosing. Writer’s love reviews, they help sell books.

 

*no pun intended – OK, sort of intended.

 

 

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THE BWF AND OMG

I just realised that it’s a week out from the BWF, and I haven’t mentioned it here.

Firstly, I’ll get to hang out and chat at school event with Sean Williams, one of my favourite writers and a bloke who I rarely get to catch up with, on account of this big continent we live in, and being on opposite ends of it.

I’ll be moderating a panel with Isobelle Carmody, Laini Taylor, and K.A. Barker

Fri, Sept 5, 5-6 pm FANTASY: THIS WORLD & THE NEXT panel
Laini Taylor, Isobelle Carmody & Kirilee Baker talk with Trent Jamieson about diving into fantastical other worlds, and bringing some of the magical to this Muggle one

There’s a link to the booking page here.

Honestly, I get to moderate the best panels!

 

Oh, and I now have a dysfunctional draft of the next Death Works. Draft as in drafty for sure. But it’s looking good, and it’s looking more novelish than the last one (ie longer, by the time I send this one off it should be a good ten to twenty thousand words longer than the last – unless I do some serious cutting). More news as it progresses.

I’ve lifted my hours at Avid to four days a week, and I must say, that working and writing in tandem really suits me these days – Routine, people! I’ve always written in the spaces between work and play. It’s nice to be back there, after the last year (when, hey, I still managed to write a book) of not so much focus, and all too much family illness. Also nice to be able to pay bills.

Anyway.

Here are my two offices. IMG_4488That’s the home one – one desk for scribbling, one desk for tapping.

IMG_4362This one is the bus to work. I can write anywhere, particularly after coffee.

 

IMG_4396And this is Ernie and Ziggy fighting over a sock. Believe me, there was no winner here.

So, there you go.

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Death Works 5 – Carnival of Death is getting all Carnivally.

Hey, I know the last Death Works story came out in February, but I promise that the next will be finished soon. Might be a while until it’s out – and the lovely folk at Momentum might hate it – but I promise it will be worth the wait. I’ve finally found my rhythm with this story, and, yes, it will be longer. And, there will be a little intro story that goes with it – think the Thing meets It.

If you haven’t read the last Death Works story, there’s a link to the right where you can buy it in whatever format you wish – except the Trent reads it to you while you lie in bed format (That costs extra).

The new one has killer clowns, a vast cosmic circus, conspiracy theories, and a deeper exploration of the new arc, which this is kind of nudging into the middle of. I’ve written about 300,000 words all up of Steve and Lissa’s story, and I reckon I have around another 200,000 (ish) words to go. I love these guys and I want to tell their story until the bitter(sweet) end, and, as long as I don’t get hit by a truck, I reckon I will.

Also, if you’re interested in a taste I do have an author page on Facebook.

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On Acknowledging the Good

I reckon one of the most important things you can do is acknowledge the good. The world is kinda shit, actually it can be terrifyingly horrible. I’ve been lucky. I was born here and now, and I have friends and family that love and support me. I have a job at a bookshop where I get to talk about books, and get exercise – lugging boxes of books around is good for the bones.

I have a new book coming out in 2015 (Day Boy, but, of course you knew that), and I’m working on a new Death Works story: Number 5 called the Carnival of Death. I get time to write, I am not always tired, and I can say what I want. I even get people telling me that they like my fiction (which is always a wonder, and is always appreciated – thank you lovely people who like my stories).

Life is pretty good. Sure there’s not so good stuff, but that’s the same for everyone, and it is always liable to change. But I think if you acknowledge the good, what you have not what you don’t, those you love, and those who love you back, well it can only make you value it more. Not jealously, but appreciatively, happily. Life isn’t a dragon’s hoard, it’s a finite series of pleasures and delights and losses and tears – even the bad stuff is finite.

And in acknowledging the good, you can more compassionately regard those who are less fortunate (and it is merely fortune that lands us where we are, even if it is the fortune to work hard, and earn what we have, the fortune to be free of disease, or to possess intellect and ambition, to not be broken by the world, to be able to argue your point of view). It also allows us to value our lives and the lives of others, to realise that we have strength and joy and moments of the sublime.

And, in the valuing, it is harder for these things to be taken away, and it is easier for these things to be shared.

Acknowledge the good, share it with others, and be wary of those that would take it away.

Don’t know if that has much to do with writing, and it certainly isn’t original. But, still, it’s something worth remembering.

Right now, it’s raining, and my old dog Ernie is snuffling behind me, and life is pretty good. Time for a nap.

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This is The City that I Love: Part One

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10 Rather Arbitrary Rules for Writing

So, yes, I’ve finally finished the new draft of Day Boy, and in the gap between edits I’m working on the next Death Works novella (which looks like it will be twice as long as the last, but we’ll see). Hey have you bought the last one yet? I’m talking to you person in the back row? You can buy it here, for about the price of a coffee – and it will last longer, unless it’s one of those really big mugs, but they never taste as good as a cup (am I right?)

Anyway, here are my rather arbitrary, and somewhat insufficient rules for writing.

 

1. Be Crazy.

Seriously, tap into your crazy. The part of you that is different to everyone else. Writing’s an exercise in empathy, but it’s also an expression of individuality, and as individuals we’re all pretty odd.

2.Start at the End.

Obviously if you start at the end, then the end is the beginning, and so there is no end, and this arbitrary statement implodes in a cloud of logic.

3.Do the Good Stuff first.

See 2. Obviously the ending is the best bit. Write the stuff that fascinates you first. Those bits are the density of a story, and it’s what the rest of the stuff (the connective tissue) will clump around. Our bones are interesting; flesh is just kind of gross unless it’s wrapped around them.

4.Write like no one gives a shit.

Seriously, no one does. Say this three times. Enjoy the liberation it brings and write.

5.Write every day except when you don’t, and never feel guilty about not writing.

We’re all big bags of guilt anyway, why make writing a source of guilt for you.

 

6.Read.

Fucking obvious. Read lots.

 

7.Capture a Star.

I don’t know, it just sounded good. You tell me what it means, you’re all writers – or masochists (which is another term for writer).

 

8.Engage all Engines.

Throw yourself into your writing, climb to the top of your word mound, and roll down it. Crazy is energetic. It’s the churn that binds everything together.

 

9. Shut up.

Give yourself to the quiet*, and try and write from there. It’s better than alcohol.

 

10.Be Cunning.

Remember writing is a game: play it like you don’t intend to lose.

 

11. Rules about writing are kind of crap.

Make up your own rules.

No, you make up your own rules.

Don’t tell me what to do.

 

*I write listening to music, but it creates a quiet place in my skull.

 

And here’s a picture of my new Tat. Yes, I love Tolkien – it’s not like that’s a surprise. Beat that CGI Smaug!

IMG_2207

 

 

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On Writing A Series: Endings.

I read a really interesting review of Memory of Death over at certain review place (I know, I really shouldn’t, never good for the ego, because all we want is the LOVE), and like all reviews, whether they liked or hated the story, (beyond the simple – this sux, type) it was utterly correct. For the reader the Death Works stories finished with book three, they loved the ending, and thought that that is where it should end. I agree totally.

The moment I publish a story (after it’s edited, poked at, prodded, questioned, and my many punctuational faux pas corrected – any that are missed are MY fault!) it belongs to the readers. They’re free to build the rest of the story: they have to. Beyond the basic economics of it, what it boils down to is no reader, no story.

The story ends for each reader where they decide to end it. The fact that someone loved my first series enough to put this one away makes my heart swell (and break) a little. The fact that they feel they can talk about it, or address it, or argue with it, is the most awesome thing in the world for a writer.

Writing is an act of love for me. I doubt I will ever make a serious living out of it, but I scramble for time and space to make these stories, because I love doing it. Each one marks out a little more of the territory of my mind and my heart, and each is an invitation for reader-engagement with my absolute understanding that engagement will truncated at some point, that the reader ultimately chooses the ending.

I find that thrilling.

The first series split readers down the middle. Those that loved the ending or those that hated it (I think endings are important, I think they’re the thread that runs through a book – ok, maybe I’m stating the obvious).

I’m curious to see how people respond to this next arc. I like my twists, I like them big (sometimes ridiculously so) in this series, and I kind of like to think I’m heading in an at least slightly unexpected direction.

When I started the first book, seriously started it(I don’t count those missteps that took me several years of stumbling) I had a definite ending in mind (it’s written in one of the black notebooks behind me – no peeking!).

That ending flows through all of these stories, I’ve written it, I know where it is going. One day you might join me there, and we can look back and laugh, or frown. But this ends where you end it; I merely scribble it down. Everything after (if I am lucky or skilled enough) is a blessing or a curse from you, and both are an honour.

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PS I am still a little feverish, hope this makes sense. (Hmm, maybe that should be the title of this webpage).

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