31 August 2010

Blogging Au Contraire: Day Three, Part 2: So Many Panels So Close To Home

Normally I'd be posting a Tuesday Poem around this time - but I've decided to get my Au Contraire blogging finished instead. Normal poetic service will be resumed next Tuesday.

I put up a rather bleary-eyed post in the early hours of Monday morning expressing my happiness at Voyagers winning a Sir Julius Vogel Award - but a whole lot of other good stuff happened on the Sunday of Au Contraire. Here are some personal highlights from the day:

Jay Lake Kaffeeklatsch

Though I moderated two panels and ran a live Q&A on the day, my personal highlight was a kaffeeklatsch with Jay Lake, a prolific (and very talented) author of short fiction and novels. The half-a-dozen of us who spent an hour with Jay in the Con Suite were treated both to his engaging conversation, and to an impromptu tutorial on the state of SF short fiction markets in the US, and what sort of story to submit where - priceless information from one who really knows the score.

(You can read one of Jay's stories at Tor.com - I enjoyed it, but as the comments show, the political fissures that run through the US run through its SF readership as well.)

Panels: Joss Whedon and SF Poetry

To those panels: the first was "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now"m with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, myself, and Alistair -aargh, surname recall fail - as the three panelists. This was a fun panel with lots of good discussion, much Whedon-love and some cogent criticisms as well. As a Buffy fan first and foremost, I was impressed how many others shared my preference - though a small band of Firefly diehards made a bold stand on the edge of Alliance space, swearing colourfully in Mandarin as they did so.

Next was the SF poetry panel with my fellow panelists Janis Freegard and Harvey Molloy. Though it was not so well attended as the Joss Whedon panel, the discussion was good, with both considerable optimism and some pessimism on the future of speculative poetry in particular and poetry in general - is flash fiction the new poetry? I particularly loved the way in which, moments after Harvey read a poem which he said he wasn't going to submit anywhere, one of the audience put up his hand and asked if he could publish it!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Q&A

My third commitment was to run a live Q&A session with Tor Books Senior Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Having already been to Patrick's kaffeeklatsch and sat besuide him on the Whedon panel, I'd stopped feeling nervous, and it wasn't a hard job to let the questions flow and hear a great deal of accumulated publishing wisdom - and a surprisingly optimistic take on the future of publishing - at close quarters.

In other circumstances, I would have attended Juliet Marillier's panel on reviewing SF, but that was my only chance to catch up with US fans Pat and Roger Sims, whom Kay and I met in 1994. It was lovely to see them again, and catch up across the years and the oceans.

Than it was dinner (a yummy dinner, at Balti, organsied most ably by Martyn Buyck), and back to the con hotel for the awards ceremonies - not just the Vogels, but all the Convention awards.

Final thoughts on Au Contraire

Final thoughts? Overwhelmingly positive: this was a stunningly well-run Con, and the women behind the convention deserve an enormous amount of credit. I was especially impressed that two key players in the convention committee could pull off publishing and launching a collection of original fiction at the same time as being convention organisers.

There's lots of great photos from the Con, plus reports that cover a lot of what I missed, at Joffre Horlor's blog. Check it out, and see you (I hope) next year in Auckland.

30 August 2010

Blogging Au Contraire: Day Three, Part 1: The Sir Julius Vogel Awards

I'm a tired but happy little Tim tonight, 'cos I got one of these on the mantelpiece.

Of course, I can only keep it for six months: it's the Sir Julius Vogel Award for "Best Collected Work" which the anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand won at Sunday night's awards ceremony at Au Contraire. Voyagers was co-edited by Mark Pirie and I, so Mark gets to share the award - as should all the poets whose work is included in Voyagers.

The diversity and strength of the nominated works shows the good health of the New Zealand speculative fiction scene, and a lot of good work was recognised. For all the Voyagers winners and nominees, see the awards ceremony livestream.

So that was the personal highlight of a long, tiring, but rewarding day. Tomorrow, when I've had some sleep, I'll blog about the rest of Sunday at this excellent and well-run convention. From chats with authors to SF poetry, there's a lot to talk about.


Author Jo Walton has made an interesting and much appreciated post about the Vogels on Tor.com.

29 August 2010

Blogging Au Contraire: Day Two: SpecFicNZ launch, Getting Published in NZ Panel, Why I'm Not A Bookseller

Plenty of highlights at Au Contraire today - some of which I attended, and others of which I heard about - but a diminishing level of energy to blog about them. So hey ho, let's go.


The new Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand organisation, best known as SpecFicNZ, was launched this evening by Ripley Patton and other members of the SpecFicNZ team. As the organisation's web page says,

SpecFicNZ is the association for creators, writers and editors of speculative fiction in or from New Zealand.

It was founded in March 2009 by Ripley Patton and eleven other humans passionate about promoting and encouraging the speculative fiction genre in their own country.

All their work since 2009 has paid off in an organisation that seems to be well focused on meeting the needs of NZ speculative fiction writers in general, and emerging writers in particular. There was a long queue of people joining up after Ripley's speech, and as one of those newly-signed-up members, I'm looking forward to what happens next.

Getting Published in New Zealand

My talk on this topic, part of the excellent writers' stream at the Convention, was on at the same time as Elizabeth Knox's Guest of Honour speech - which was a pity, as I would have liked to attend this, and heard afterwards that she spoke very well.

Nonetheless, about 20 people attended my talk. It isn't easy to get speculative fiction published in New Zealand, although the recent advent of an NZ speculative fiction magazine (Semaphore) and an NZ science fiction publisher (Random Static) is beginning to make a major difference.

I explained how, in various unlikely ways, I had managed to get quite a few SF stories - including Transported, a short story collection that's between 1/3 and 1/2 SF - published by "mainstream" fiction publishers and magazines here, and suggested some strategies to follow for doing this: strategies which seemed to chime with the experience of others around the table. I'm going to write this talk up for SpecFicNZ.

Why I Am Not A Bookseller

Some people have got the knack of selling books at sales tables. I haven't. At the Convention's Floating Market, I shared a sales table with Pat Whitaker and Lee Pletzers. They sold books. I didn't... until right at the end. As soon as I started to pack my books away, people came up to buy them!

So I think I have discovered the secret to successful bookselling: every ten minutes, start to pack all your books away. Then, when the purchasers lured by this move have bought their books and moved on, put all your books out again. Repeat every ten minutes, and wealth shall be yours!


... I want to catch up with lots of people I know are attending the Con, but whom I haven't seen yet. I am moderating a panel on SF poetry with the excellent Janis Freegard and Harvey Molloy. I am doing a live Q&A with Patrick Nielsen Hayden. And, at 10am, I have to explain why "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now". I'm going to advance the radical thesis that it's Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon and Mo Tancharoen Whedon we should really be watching out for... sorry, Joss!

28 August 2010

Blogging Au Contraire: Day One: "A Foreign Country" Book Launch

I'm pushing it a bit when I say that I'm blogging Day 1 of Au Contraire, since all I attended today was the launch of new short fiction anthology A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction. I'll be much more thoroughly present at the Con tomorrow and on Sunday.

But here are some quick observations:

* The book launch was short but sweet. Anna Caro introduced the book, Claire Brunette read her story from the collection, "Beneath The Trees", and then much signing and photographing was done.
* The production quality of A Foreign Country is excellent. Publishers Random Static have done a great job of design and production.
*A Foreign Country has 22 stories in its 266 pages, costs $24.95, and is available from independent bookshops - such as Unity and Parsons in Auckland and the University Bookshop in Dunedin (I didn't catch the whole list). You can also order it from the Random Static website.
* If you want to order it from a bookshop that doesn't stock it, the ISBN is 978-0-473-16916-9
* The Con looks like a great place to catch up with old friends as well as make new ones. In the short time I was there, I met several people I hadn't seen for a long time, and a quick perusal of the guest list shows plenty more old friends to catch up with.
* Holding the Con a week before the World Science Fiction Convention, Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne, has meant that overseas attendees actually outnumber the New Zealanders. There are 150 overseas fans attending out of about 240 total.
* The Convention Committee are doing a fine job & holding up well so far. Running a science fiction convention is one of the most tiring jobs I know - I wish them all the best for the rest of the weekend.

So let's leave you with the A Foreign Country cover and press release.

The Future Is A Foreign Country

Imagine worlds where strange creatures roam the hills of Miramar, desperate survivors cling to the remains of a submerged country, and the residents of Gisborne reluctantly serve alien masters.

Those are just some of the visions painted in a new volume of speculative fiction by Kiwi writers. Published by Wellington-based small press Random Static, A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction features work by best-selling author Juliet Marillier; poet, musician, and writer Bill Direen; and several Sir Julius Vogel Award winners, prominent writers, and talented newcomers.

Popular and award-winning Australian author Sean Williams, who will be in Wellington at the time of the launch, was impressed by his sneak preview, describing the anthology as “richly populated with the frightening and the fabulous, the thrilling and the thoughtful, the inspiring and the inspired.”

Co-editor Anna Caro hopes the works in the collection will both provide points of familiarity to readers, and take their imagination to new places. “Many of the stories are set in New Zealand, present or future, and portray worlds which are both instantly recognisable and nothing like the country we currently live in. This anthology showcases some of the remarkable range of New Zealand’s world-class speculative fiction writers.”

26 August 2010

Getting Ready For Au Contraire

I'm looking forward to Au Contraire more than I've looked forward to a science fiction convention for a long while.

My convention-going extends back to 1980 and the second New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention (Natcon) in Wellington. I have been to a couple of World Science Fiction Conventions - Aussiecon Two in 1985, and ConFrancisco in San Francisco in 1993, where I was daunted by the sheer scale of the event - and I've attended other conventions in Melbourne and Edinburgh.

But my con-going has been sporadic at best in recent years. I've popped along to Wellington Natcons, and it has been nice to catch up with friends there, but the conventions themselves have seemed subject to the law of diminishing returns.

So why am I so excited about Au Contraire? Well, part of it is the programme, which has a strong bent towards written rather than watched SF this year.

Part of it is the very strong lineup of guests, many of whom are proceeding on to Aussiecon 4, the 2010 Worldcon, held the weekend after Au Contraire - unfortunately, I'm unable to make the journey. The lineup of visiting guests includes Hugo Award winners like Cheryl Morgan and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

Part of my excitement is because I'm more involved in the convention programme than I have been for a long time. I'll be taking part in or attending:

- The launch of NZ SF anthology A Foreign Country, which includes my story "The Last Good Place", and a whole bunch of stories by authors whose work I'm keen to read.
- The panel I'm running on "Getting Published in New Zealand".
- The launch of Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand (SpecFicNZ) - I haven't been involved in setting this up, but I'm impressed by the dedication shown by those who have.
- A panel I'm on called "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now". As a good anarchist, I will of course respectfully dissent from the panel title, and argue that, instead, "Jed Whedon Is My Master Now". (Sorry, Zack. Sorry, Mo!)
- The panel on SF poetry I'm on with Janis Freegard and Harvey Molloy.
- A live Q&A session I'm doing with Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
- The Sir Julius Vogel Awards ceremony, where Voyagers is up for "Best Collected Work".

And after all that, I think I might take Monday morning off!

24 August 2010

Tuesday Poem: Lockdown


Turbid sky,
uneasy ground.
The face of a guest
turned away at the door.

His hands like roses
hunch a cigarette.
I hear his boots
make full confessions to the rain.

Tim says:"Lockdown" was my contribution to the Winter Readings Poetry Wall in 2007. It is as yet uncollected.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems.

19 August 2010

Status Report! Status Report!

Unless I'm spruiking a new book, this blog sails along in parallel to my writing, sometimes close but never together.

So it feels like time to give an update on what's been happening with my writing, and what's coming up.

The Immediate Past

I started this year aiming to finish two manuscripts: my third poetry collection and my second novel. I've met one of those two goals: my third poetry collection, the one I'm calling "Men Briefly Explained", has now been completed and sent out to its first port of call (I hope it's the final port of call, but it is never wise to get one's hopes up too far in such matters.)

The novel isn't quite so far along: I have put it through several revisions, and I have some more revision tasks to do before sending out to those who have kindly agreed to be first readers for me - of which more later.

A lot of what normally qualifies as my writing time in the second half of last year was taken up with doing promotional work for Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, the anthology co-edited by Mark Pirie and myself. The work - notably the book tour organised by Voyagers' publisher Interactive Press - paid off: Voyagers has sold well for an anthology of its type, and it made the Listener "100 Best Books of the Year" list for 2009.

This year, my writing time has indeed been taken up with writing - OK, when I haven't been distracting myself with Twitter - but I did have a very enjoyable change of scene with two visits to Newlands College over the past couple of weeks. The first was to present the prizes in a Poetry Day poetry competition I'd judged, and the second, with the financial assistance of Creative New Zealand, was a full-day Writers In Schools Programme visit arranged through the New Zealand Book Council.

I've been on the books of the Writers in Schools programme for a while, and had even done some school visits outside that programme, but this was my first "official" school visit. I spent the whole day at the school, running mini-workshops and giving talks. And, despite a nagging cold which necessitated the frequent intake of Strepsils, I had a really good time. The teachers were friendly, the students were interested, and if given the chance, I'd love to do it all over again.

The Foreseeable Future

My main writing focus for the rest of the year will be to get the novel manuscript to the point where I can send it to those kind souls who have volunteered as first readers - at least one of whom has been waiting for an unconscionably long time now! Right now, I'm on the last few chapters of the third full revision. After that, I need to:

  • take all those pesky square brackets which say things like [check this] and [add para here] and replace them with things that a reader might want to read. (Or maybe I should just leave these square brackets in and "crowdsource" the answers? What would Jane Austen do?)
  • do a "dialogue run", in which I'll go through each character's dialogue in turn and say it out loud to check that it sounds like them and not like me.
  • and read the whole thing through once more for luck.

Also, maybe I should finally give the novel a title. I'm given to understand this can be terribly effective.

Once that's done and out to the readers, I'll be able to turn my attention to the short story ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for a while now, waiting for their turn. I haven't written many short stories since Transported was published, and it's high time I did.

There's also Au Contraire to look forward to at the end of next week, with its full hand of literary events including the launch of short story anthology A Foreign Country; the October launch of New Zealand cricket poetry anthology 'A Tingling Catch'; and a poetry reading I'll say more about soon. It should be a good few months.

17 August 2010

Tuesday Poetry Review: Bartering Lines (2009) and Daybook Fragments (2010), by Michael Steven

Reviewed: Michael Steven's Bartering Lines (2009) and Daybook Fragments (2010), published by Kilmog Press.

Book availability: Currently the books are available at Parsons Books in Auckland or Dunedin Public Art Gallery in Dunedin, and online from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery: Bartering Lines and Daybook Fragments. The RRP for both books is $45.00.

Dunedin's Kilmog Press has built an excellent track record of producing high-quality, limited edition poetry collections. These two books by Michael Steven are no exception. Both are short hardcovers - under forty pages - with striking cover art; Daybook Fragments has the more attractive interior, with a better paper stock and font, but they are both fine examples of the book as artefact.

I had little idea what to expect from Michael Steven's poetry, having read very few poems by him previously. I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed these books. Bartering Lines made the greater impression on me, but I think that's because I read it first, rather than because Daybook Fragments a lesser book.

Most of the poems in Bartering Lines are short lyrics, some with a surreal twist. "Lyric" is one of the more straightforward:


-for Emma-

The morning
was a palimpsest -
worn through by rain.
Our cups of tea
cooling on the desk.
Your hair spread
like pale fire
across the pillow's
dark ridges

Literary references abound in both books: there are poems after Cesar Vallejo and Samuel Beckett, poems dedicated to Bob Orr, Jack Ross, John Ashbery and Jim Carroll. Some of Daybook Fragments reminded me of the kind of hipster poetry many male New Zealand poets wrote in the 1960s and 1970s, of which "Blackburn's Last Strut", with its hat-tip to Louis Zukofsky, is, I suspect, a parody, with its:

troubadour in a Stetson
& square-heeled

Daybook Fragments finishes on a very strong note with the sequence "Maia's Song" and the closing "Here, the Lovers", which ends:

born again, as bones, the lovers
laid down on vellum pages,

exhumed from poems,
these graves of fragments.

It's a fundamentally Romantic poetry, and I think it works best like this, unencumbered by irony and the anxiety of influence. The best poems in these books are very good indeed, and both books are well worth reading.

12 August 2010

The Hole Where The Sun Goes

Mummy wouldn't talk to her, so Katie went to play in her sandpit with her toys. There was a digger and a car. The car used to live inside, then it got too sandy.

Katie played with the digger and the sand for a while. Then she got bored. She looked up in the sky and saw the moon. Mummy said the moon only shone after Katie went to bed, but sometimes Katie could see it during the day. Katie loved the moon. Daddy used to love it too.

It was getting a bit dark. Katie thought it might be going to rain. She didn't want to go inside and play with her toys. She went and sat on the porch with her cuddly and sucked her thumb. She wished Mummy would talk to her.

Katie was hungry, and she wanted to go pee-pee. She couldn't go to the bathroom because Mummy had locked the door, so she found another place. Then she climbed up on her chair and got the food Mummy had left her. There was an apple and some crackers and some juice and a cookie. Davy was sleeping under the table. When Katie was eating, she dropped one of the crackers, and before she could pick it up, Davy came and ate it. She told Davy he was a bad dog. He looked sad, so she patted him and gave him some special Davy food.

When she had eaten all her food, she was still hungry, so she climbed up on a big chair and got some more cookies from the jar. The lid was tight and hurt her hand. Then she put on her jacket and went back outside.

It was now getting very dark, but there weren't many clouds. The sun was just about to fall out of the sky. Katie knew where the sun went when it fell out of the sky. It went in a hole.

After the sun went in the hole, the moon started shining more bright. It was all dark except for the moon and the stars. Katie was a bit scared. She called Davy to come outside, but he wouldn't. He never did what she told him to. He was a bad dog.

Katie wanted to be with Mummy. She went and banged on the bathroom door, but it was still locked, and Mummy didn't answer no matter how loud she shouted. It was sort of scary in the house without Mummy, even though Davy was there, so she sat down in the porch with her back against the wall, wrapped her jacket around her, and cuddled her cuddly.

In the night, Katie felt cold. She woke up and saw Mummy. Mummy was cold too. Davy came outside and did a funny bark at her, then ran away. Mummy took Katie's hand, and together they went to find the hole where the sun goes.

"The Hole Where The Sun Goes" was published in Home: New Short Short Stories By New Zealand Writers (Random House, 2005) and is so far uncollected.

09 August 2010

Tuesday Poem: As you know, Bob

As you know, Bob

As you know, Bob, our numbers are dwindling. Genetic factors are to blame: our Y chromosomes, fragile to begin with, have proved uniquely vulnerable to the combination of pollution, rich food and grain alcohol. Only in the pristine environment of space can we truly flourish — but that is the preserve of a lucky few. The rest of us dwindle in protected enclosures, pacified by large-screen televisions, released only to be the subject of scientific research, the unexpected element in reality TV shows, and the providers of the litres of sperm which, carefully husbanded, will ensure the survival of the race.

As you know, Bob, the Testosterone Reduction Act of 2012 solved many of our problems. Fast cars with bored-out mufflers lie rusting in the fields, while young men knit, crochet and garden. Packs of drunk young women no longer prowl nightclubs at 3am. War is the province of old men's uneasy dreams. Children are dandled on knees, lawns are left unmowed for many successive Sundays, and our tallest peaks are no longer strewn with the frozen bodies of over-ambitious climbers. Only a lack of progress in the more recondite branches of mathematics can be termed a disadvantage.

As you know, Bob, religion proved to be the answer. Give me a boy at seven years, and in due course I will give you a sizeable bill and a New Monastic. Devoted to penury and hardship, they till the fields, herd cattle, and leaven the bread of daily life. In wooden prisons, in draughty halls, they offer shining faces and silent witness. They bank treasure in heaven to set against reproductive defeat. Nothing is to be gained by opposing them. Let us, Bob, walk hand in hand to the river.

Tim says:"As you know, Bob" was recently published in Issue 2 of literary magazine Enamel, edited by Emma Barnes. There is lots of good stuff in this issue; I'm going to post some more info about it in a couple of weeks' time, but in the meantime, you can buy copies on TradeMe!

This prose poem arose from a conversation about the "New Monastic" movement during a car journey to Whanganui. It will, I hope, take its place in my next collection, "Men Briefly Explained".

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

05 August 2010

Books In The Trees

Books in the Trees

As soon as I understood what a book was, I resolved to become a bookkeeper. To the dismay of my parents, I was forever climbing trees in hopes of catching an unwary volume. Of course, I never did; they were far above me, flapping unmolested from branch to branch.

My proudest achievement was to bear back to earth a whole egg, but my pride turned to dismay when my mother scolded me and insisted that I put it back in the nest immediately. "That might be another Calvino or Bulgakov!" she told me. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I made the long climb anyway. (I have a strong suspicion the egg hatched into one of the flock of self-help books that used to stoop upon us as we walked, tangling their claws in our hair.)

It was not until I began my training that I realised how much more was required than the ability to climb trees. There were cliffs, mountains, and sea-stacks to be scaled, of course, but also the myriad arts of classification and cataloguing, acquisition and disposition. The reward for endless hours of drudgery was the swoop of a thriller from a clear blue sky, the heavy "whump" of a fantasy series flying north for the summer, the chirping of young pamphlets in the spring.

I have grown old in the service of these magnificent creatures, but I prepare for my retirement in growing dismay. The age of the book is ending. The wide forests are no more, cut down for wood and land and greed, and the great flocks of books that filled the skies of my youth have dwindled to lone volumes fleeing the hunters. Now all kinds of buzzing, brightly coloured things clamour for our attention, and books are almost forgotten.

In an attempt - perhaps it will prove vain - to preserve what we can, we have trapped many endangered books and placed them in sanctuaries we call "libraries". It breaks my heart to see them trammelled so; yet perhaps I shall live to see the day when booklets bred in these libraries are released back into the wild. May the last sound I hear be the rustle of their leaves.

"Books In The Trees" was first published in Turbine (2002). It is the final story in my short story collection Transported.

Transported cover

You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported

03 August 2010

Tuesday Poem: The Fasting Season, by Tishani Doshi (video)

Tim says:This poem comes from the collection Countries of the Body, which won Tishani Doshi the 2006 Forward Poetry Prize. Her first novel, The Pleasure Seekers, drawing on her own experience as a person of Indian and Welsh heritage, was published in 2010. And, as if all that wasn't marvellous enough, she also blogs about cricket.