Conflux 2017…Grimm Tales (Canberra’s Annual Speculative Fiction Convention) Wrap Up [Part 1- Friday]

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My first Conflux is over, and I’m looking back at the weekend with a sense of pure post-con joy – what an amazing, talented, and downright awesome group of writers, editors and publishers I had the pleasure of meeting and seeing speak over the course of my three-day attendance!

The line-up of special guests was impressive – International Guest of Honour, Ellen Datlow; Australian Guest of Honour, Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren as MC, and Meri Amber with her EP written especially for Grimm Tales as Music Guest.

I highly suggest you drop everything and go and buy some of their amazing works. Don’t worry – I’ll wait.

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So now you’re back with a few dozen extra books in your e-reader, right? So let’s get on with the convention itself:

FRIDAY

I departed Sydney at 6:30am Friday morning and arrived at Canberra at 9:30am with just enough time to kiss the kids goodbye (they spent the day at Questacon with Dad) drop my bags, pick up my lanyard and make it to one of the first sessions of the day – ‘Big Ideas In Compact Packages’: short stories. It was my first chance to see Ellen Datlow impart words of wisdom, and she was joined on the panel by Jason Nahrung, Imogen Cassidy, and Shauna O’Meara. Plenty of excellent advice and rumination was offered regarding the use of tropes in short fiction, the advantage of being able to write to a deadline, the importance of subtext, the meaning of ‘voice’, and the joy of finding a story that jumps out at you from the slush pile.

The second panel I attended was ‘Things that go bump…clank…mooooooaaan’: ghosts in folk tales, horror, and urban legend. Ellen was again present on this panel, along with Jennifer Breukelaar, Aaron Dries, and Kimberley Gaal. (Kimberley if you’re reading this – I can’t find your website – let me know where it is so I can update it!). I found this a fascinating panel, especially as I’m not a horror writer so hadn’t previously considered ghosts in all their nuances and the way they’re used as plot devices. The two main types of ghost stories were discussed: moving – not scary but tragic, with the ghost serving as a vehicle for emotion and offering the chance to ‘finish business’; and of course, creepy – an unnatural force that needs to be satisfied (or in some of the creepiest stories, cannot be satisfied and is just malevolent evil). There was talk of cultural appropriation of ghost stories and belief and whether this can be done sensitively. Why do children make good ghosts? Are ghosts merely manifestations of regret? Ellen also mentioned a few tropes she’s tired of – the ‘sexy beast’, the ‘hot’ aliens and the ‘bunch of teens’.

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I caught up with Jason Nahrung, Kirstyn McDermott, and Bren MacDibble for a cup of free coffee (with badly labeled milk), and talked gardening, permaculture, alpacas, grants, bees and watching grass grow.

2pm, and I made it to ‘Fairy Tales with Teeth and Claws’, once again featuring Ellen, the amazing Angela Slatter, Leife Shallcross, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. This was another great panel and the discussion centered around viewing Grimm fairytales through a feminist lens, particularly the problem of sexism in fairy tales. The voices of women are often removed from these stories until all that remains are the bad women and the bold boys. The bad women are punished, and the good girls are paraphrased.

My next panel was ‘Beastly Transformations’, with Angela Slatter, Cat Sheely, Leif Shallcross and Claire Fitzpatrick, a discussion of werewolves, selkies, sirens, swans, gender stereotypes, cultural norms and breaking free. Why we are enamored with the idea of animal transformation? Is it the idea of the freedom it allows, is it our terror of change, or our own pride that we don’t like to be considered ‘animals’ giving in to a baser instinct? Transformation can be used as a vehicle to explore freedom of choice, embracing the unknown, not being afraid of change, and what it means to be human.

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Afterwards all that panel goodness, I caught up at the bar with a drink with Louise Merrington and Madeline D’Este to discuss Steampunk, publishing (and self-publishing) and of course, writing!

That was as much as I could take in on Friday…phew! I headed off early for some dinner with the kids and hubby (who enjoyed Questacon) and had an early night! Tomorrow, I’ve got more panels and two amazing workshops.

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I’ll fill you in on those in PART 2… (coming soon!)

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Brandon Sanderson at Supernova Sydney 2017

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OMG, OMG, OMG – I met Brandon Sanderson last weekend. I’m not usually one to fan-girl an author (who am I kidding – yes, I am), but meeting someone who’s written so many amazing books in my favourite genre, including being a part of one of my FAVOURITE SERIES EVER (The Wheel Of Time) – well, it was awesome.

I took two books for Brandon to sign – The Final Empire and A Memory of Light.

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Two personally signed books! Awesome!

He signed them both, smiled for a photo, and at the end asked me if I had any questions for him. I had about a million, but of course my brain ceased to function at that precise moment – so I thanked him for finishing The Wheel of Time, telling him it was a series my friend and I have been reading since we were thirteen-year-olds in high school. I speculated if Robert Jordan would ever have finished the series even if he had lived the lifespan of a functionally immortal dragon – which sounded very callous in hindsight – and please don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Jordan’s world and his writing. Even if I was frustrated at times by the meandering plot and sometimes slow pace, I never wanted the series to end. But I am ever so thankful that there was someone like Brandon Sanderson to step in and finish this series. Brandon was very gracious and told me to say ‘hi’ to my friend.

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Brandon Sanderson and me (cosplaying Wonder Woman)

I also had the pleasure of seeing Brandon Sanderson speak in a solo panel. He shared some amazing words of wisdom, and I just wanted to share a couple of take-aways (please note I didn’t take any notes while listening, so I am going from memory):

On completing The Wheel Of Time

I initially felt a bit sheepish taking a copy of A Memory of Light for Brandon to sign. I mean, he has so many other amazing series and is such a prolific writer, surely I could have found a couple of books that were solely ‘his’. But after hearing him speak, I didn’t feel any discomfort asking him to sign a book about a world that he didn’t create. He revealed that when Robert Jordan passed, he left only about 200 pages of work (mostly the material that became the prologues). Jordan was not a planner, and so Brandon Sanderson was left to develop the story line with plenty of autonomy. It might have been Jordan’s world, but it was Sanderson’s imagination that brought The Wheel of Time to its stunning conclusion.

On routine and family

Brandon has the following routine: sleep until midday, write for four hours in the afternoon, then spend the late afternoon / evening with his family. He gets back onto the computer at about 11pm and works through until 3am, giving himself an hour or so to goof off before bed around 4am. He spoke of the importance of being mentally present when you’re with your family – and I think this was such valuable advice – as writers we often suffer from constant guilt – guilt that we’re neglecting our family when we’re writing, and guilt that we’re not writing when we’re with our family. The importance of being in the moment when we’re enjoying ‘family time’ and not off in our writing world was something I’m taking with me, and echoes lots of stuff I’ve read recently about mindfulness and enjoying the moment.

On why he thinks fantasy is a great genre

Because it can include the best elements of any other genre – mystery, romance, action, literary fiction – plus dragons!

 

It was absolutely amazing to hear Brandon Sanderson speak, and I’m so glad I made it to his panel. He seemed so down-to-earth, so kind and humble, and just the right amount of book-geek to be totally, super-cool.

Thanks for coming to Sydney, Brandon Sanderson. I hope you stop by again soon!

Until next time xxxx

Freecon: Calling all Sydney Sci Fi and Fantasy fans / writers / readers!

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

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Mark your diaries, Sydneysiders! FREECON is Sydney’s only free SF&F event, and its running 5th, 6th and 7th of December in Clempton Park, in Sydney’s Inner West and it needs your support!

Calling for the following: 

– Published SF&F Writers with a new SF&F book they would like to discuss (Sat & Sun, AM & PM)
– People would like to discuss the year’s Sci-Fi TV (Sat AM)
– People would like to discuss the year’s Sci-Fi Movies (Sun AM)
– People would like to discuss the year’s Sci-Fi Conventions and Meetings (Sat PM)
– People would like to discuss Writers support groups (Sun PM)
– People would like to discuss Libraries and Librarians, as the other source of SF&F (?)
– People would like to discuss Book Reviewing and Recommendations, pathways to better SF&F? (?)
– People would like to discuss SF and Fantasy in Music (Fri PM)
– People with improvisation skills and creativity for the Martian School of Archaeology panel (Sat / Sun, AM / PM)
– People would like to discuss Significant SF&F figures wo have passed on – The Kevin Dillon Symposium (Lunchtime Sat.)

This is a great opportunity to get involved in the Sydney SF&F community! If you are interested in participating, please contact Garry Dalrymple at jtfson@gmail.com.

To see the whole program, you can visit the website here

There are so few SF&F events in Sydney, it would be wonderful if you could spread the word!

Thanks!

Literary Speed Dating, Sydney @ NSW Writers’ Centre 2014 #ASA

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The idea of ‘Literary Speed Dating’, standing in front of publishers and agents to pitch your novel, is enough to strike terror into the heart of most writers. I mean, we slave over our carefully crafted words FOR YEARS, honing them into something shiny and worthy of showing the world. The last thing we want to do after all that work is talk about it.

Nevertheless, Saturday 15th November, 2014, saw me lining up with 49 other hopefuls outside of the New South Wales Writers’ Centre in beautiful Rozelle, all awaiting our chance to dazzle our potential publisher or literary agent, and make the most of the three minutes (you read that right, just three minutes) in the spotlight, or at the very least to not make complete fools of ourselves!

Most of my waiting time was spent cursing my flippancy in January at signing up to the speed dating on a whim when my friend (and pitching buddy) Lisa Fleetwood (you can read her experience of the day here), told me she was going. I kept asking myself why I put myself through these sort of things, and wondering if the time I’d spent yesterday rehearsing my pitch a million times to the wall* might not better have been spent, well, writing something. Mostly it was spent just feeling really, really, hideously nervous.

*maybe not quite a million, but close enough

Then, they announced we were going in. As part of my research into Literary Speed Dating (or LSD, as it is affectionately called), I’d read this wonderful article by Diana Jenkins here, about her LSD experience. It gave me the impression that I’d be facing a scene somewhere between a mosh-pit and boxing-day sales trying to get into the queue I wanted, so I made sure I’d scoped out the rooms before the pitching started and knew right where I wanted to go first.

As it turned out, I need not have bothered. The event was expertly managed, the pitchers to publishers ratio meant there were no queues longer than about 10 people, and roving assistants moved along any pitchers who stayed glued to their chair much longer than the hooter.

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Literary Speed Dating, with John Anet and Robin Riedstra

I joined the queue for my number one choice, and waited for the four people in front of me to finish up their pitches before taking my turn. The hooter went, and I was on. The first pitch went great. I’d made a little powerpoint video that ran on my ipad, which worked swimmingly, and my speech flowed without me even having to look at the paper. My first three chapters were requested.

One down.

There was only one other publisher who had expressed an interest in fantasy listed, so I lined up in her queue, and pitched again. Again, success. First three chapters taken.

Two from two, I thought, and I popped into the other room just to wish Lisa best of luck with her remaining pitches, when one of the friendly roving assistants suggested that one particular publisher was offering feedback on all pitches, and would I like the opportunity to practice my pitch again?

I could have said no. I could have gone home. But I was here. I’d put on a suit, for goodness sake, and done my makeup, and practiced the darn thing, yes, of course I’d take another opportunity to pitch! Again, the pitch went well. Three pitches in, all the nerves had dissipated and I’d really found my stride. This particular publisher looked at me and said ‘I don’t publish that, but I have a colleague who might be interested’. I’d only brought two copies of my first three chapters, so had to settle for exchanging business cards and a promise to send my work over.

I’m really done now, I thought. But I was feeling so on top of the world, I could have pitched another twenty times. By now, the queues were all but gone, and you could pretty much just plonk yourself down with any of the publishers, which I noticed that many people were doing, regardless of their “preferred” publications.

I’d really hoped there would be more fantasy publishers”, I said to the lovely Jacqui Dent, a writer and employee of the ASA, who I have met at a couple of other events. She suggested I try one of the other publishers, even though I didn’t think they would be looking for the type of thing I write.

Well, it’s worth a shot. The worst they can say is ‘no’.

I explained my novel; very gritty, female-driven fantasy, and proceeded into my spiel. To my surprise, the publisher asked her colleague to listen to the pitch, so I did it all over again, and nearly fell over when this particular publisher requested, not just the first three chapters, but the WHOLE MANUSCRIPT. You could have knocked me off the chair with a feather.

Needless to say, I’m so grateful to Lisa who told me I should sign up to LSD. It was a great day, thanks to careful planning and a good pitch. Thank you to the ASA, the NSWWC and to all the publishers and agents who attended for a fantastic event, so well organized and valuable. I would highly recommend anyone with a novel waiting to find a home attend one of these events!

Now, of course, comes the hard part, waiting to find out if anyone wants my manuscript with a view to publication. I can only hope my words take me the rest of the way there.

How The Event Runs

You can read all the details on how the event runs on the ASA’s website here, but here are a few things they don’t mention that you might find useful:

  • You pitch across a table, sitting down: This is useful to know, as it means you don’t need to worry about palm cards. A sheet of paper in front of you is quite sufficient, and there’s plenty of space to plop your bags down beside you. If, like me, you have anything digital planned, there is plenty of room to set up a laptop or iPad.
  • Editors/Publishers are spread out around the room: This one should have been obvious, but I had this idea of all the publishers in a line for some reason. It means you don’t quite have to yell so loud. Publishers from the same publishing house sit next to each other.
  • There’s a little give-and-take with the bell: Again, I had this idea that you’d be cut off mid-sentence if you went over the three minutes, and the person behind you would be pushing you out of the seat. There was about ten seconds to wrap-up for each person after the hooter, (enough time to exchange cards and information) after which time, the ASA rep would move you along.

 

My Top Tips for a Successful LSD Event

BEFORE THE EVENT

  1. Book Early: Really early. This event ran in November, but I believe it was pretty much a sell-out by May.
  2. Dress to Impress: Obviously, it is up to you what you wear and what you feel comfortable in, but I wore a suit and jacket. For me, the most important thing was to make a publisher believe in me and my work, and that meant looking ‘business-y’ and professional. When you’ve only got three minutes to make an impression, everything counts. Chose your outfit well in advance. Choose two outfits, one you can wear in cold weather and one in warm, as the weather can be quite changeable in November, and you don’t want to be sweating if its hot!
  3. Write a Killer Pitch: This is easier said than done, of course. If you don’t know how to write a pitch (or even if you think you do), it is highly recommended to attend the ASA’s Pitch Perfect course. This was an invaluable course, and I got a lot of take-aways from it that were hugely useful for the pitching, many of which I’d never read in books about pitching. The most important thing, though, was that the course included having a publisher look over my pitch. Start writing your pitch early. Speed Dating comes around before you know it, and you’ll want a week at least to practice your pitch. Make sure you include all the most important things: length of m/s, genre, audience (adult, YA), whether it is ready for submission or not.
  4. Practice, practice, practice: Practice on the wall. Practice on your friends, your dog, your kids. Get feedback. What works? What doesn’t? Are there any boring parts? Does your listener understand what your book is about? Do they have any questions that need answering? Do you speak too fast? Do your words slur together? Do you have any annoying habits, like playing with jewellery or fiddling with your fingers? Now’s the time to iron out the kinks. Time your speech. You’ve only got three minutes, and the publisher/agent will want to ask questions. Your speech should not be much more than two minutes.
  5. Prepare your paperwork: The ASA recommends bringing your entire m/s to the event. I don’t know why you would want to do this. Apart from being a huge waste of paper if your m/s isn’t requested, the publishers might listen to up to 40 pitches each. Unless you write picture books, there’s no way they want to carry home 40 manuscripts. I suggest you bring a standard submission pack – synopsis, three chapters (polished until they are as shiny as a drill-sergeant’s boots) and your contact details. If you have business cards, attach one. If you are not too shy, consider putting your face on your business card. It may look a bit OTT, but you’d be surprised how much easier it makes the publisher’s job when they can attach the face to the work later on.
  6. Prepare Yourself: Make a list of the publishers you want to see, and their names. Prioritise. Just like any important event, make sure you’ve checked your map and know where you’re going. Being late will make you stressed. Eat a good breakfast/lunch. Carbs are important to make your brain function, and a growling tummy is a big distraction!

DURING THE EVENT

  1. Scope it out: When you get to the event, register, and make sure you ask where the person you most want to see will be seated. I highly recommend having a quick sticky-beak inside the venue if you can. This way you can see the set up, and know exactly where your preferred publishers are sitting.
  2. Pitch Your Heart Out: Be confident, and personable when pitching. Smile and introduce yourself. Shake hands. No matter how nervous you are, acknowledging that the publisher/agent is a person is always going to stand you in good stead. Deliver your pitch with a strong voice. It can be quite noisy in the venue, especially when lots of people are talking at once.
  3. Be gracious: Whatever feedback you are given, take it on board, and with good grace. These people are experts. They know what they’re talking about. Say thank you when you leave.
  4. Consider others. When the hooter goes, try to wrap up your conversation quickly, exchange cards and information, and move on. This event only works if people respect one another. (Just out of interest, there is a small buffer in the bell system, allowing a few seconds for intros / wrap-ups, so you will probably find the person in front of you will go over 10 secs or so, and you will do the same).
  5. See your publishers/agents in order of preference: Whatever that may be. Some people like to see their second preference first, to shake out the nerves before hitting up their preferred publisher. Whatever works. If you completely stuff it, there’s always the opportunity to join the back of the queue and try again.
  6. If you’ve time: In my experience, it is worth asking publishers if they’re interested in your pitch, even if you may not be in their preferred genre. Do this at the end, when the crowds are thinning, so you’re not getting in the way of anyone who is desperate to pitch to that publisher. At the very least, you may be able to get some feedback on your pitch, and if they really like you, they may have someone they can refer you to.
  7. Wine Time! Regardless of the outcome of your speed dating event, by the end of the two hours you deserve a pat on the back and a reward (I suggest chocolate and alcohol, but that’s just my preference). You’ve achieved something amazing – putting yourself into the firing line, and putting yourself ‘out there’ for something you really believe in – your novel! That in itself is an awesome achievement.

Until next time!

The 18th Annual Aurealis Awards (Spec Fiction Awards)

I had the pleasure of attending the Aurealis Awards on Saturday night, and what a fabulous night I had! So many wonderful people from the writing business attended, and I had the honour of meeting some very talented people (and managed not to make a fool of myself by blabbering too much to some of my literary heroes!)

The Aurealis Awards recognise the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. The categories also include awards for short stories, young adult and children’s fiction.

I arrived alone, and soon struck up a conversation (glass of wine in hand) with the lovely Katherine Stubbs. Katherine is a novel reviewer (what a great job!) and was judging the Anthology/Collection award this year. It was wonderful to get an insight into the judging process and how heated the discussions can be!

I then had the pleasure of chatting with Deborah Kalin, who was nominated for her fantasy short story “First They Came” (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 55). Deb had brought her gorgeous 4 month old daughter and we instantly struck up a conversation about all things baby related, as our daughters were born only 7 days apart! I simply had to know how she writes with a baby – the answer is, its tough! Deborah was so down-to-earth, and so lovely, I could have chatted to her all night! I can’t wait to hunt down her short story and read it. Her partner Stu was equally nice and I spent quite some time grilling him about what it is like to live with a writer. He made a comment almost exactly the same as my husband makes, that we amaze them, especially when we come out of writing upset that our characters did something unexpected, or won’t to what we want them to! I could totally relate.

I also had the chance to chat to the very engaging Jason Nahrung. Jason was nominated for two of his novels in the Horror category, Blood and Dust (Xoum) and Salvage (Twelfth Planet Press). In the end he was pipped at the post by his equally talented wife, Kirstyn McDermott, who took out the prize for Best Horror Novel for Perfections (Xoum). I chatted to Jason for quite some time. I meant to ask him about how he got into writing and his writing journey, but once I found out that his wife was also a writer I was so intrigued that I shamelessly grilled him about all aspects of what it is like to have a partner who also writes. It was really fascinating! Look out for Jason and Kirstyn’s work, they are very talented and working a niche field. I’ll definitely be reading their novels now, but maybe not before bed!

Jason Nahrung and I

Jason Nahrung and I

The writing goddess Kate Forsyth was also in attendance, nominated for her exquisite historical fantasy Bitter Greens (Random House Australia). I love Kate’s work (see my review of Dragonclaw here), and I’ll be reviewing Bitter Greens very soon. Kate and I managed a brief chat, and a quick photo opportunity.

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth

The gorgeous Margo Lanagan scooped the pool at this year’s Aurealis, winning multiple categories including; joint winner (with Dead, Actually by Kaz Delaney (Allen & Unwin), Best Young Adult Novel for Sea Hearts (Allen & Unwin); Best Fantasy Short Story for “Bajazzle” (Cracklescape, Twelfth Planet Press); Best Fantasy Novel for Sea Hearts; and Best Science Fiction Short Story for “Significant Dust” (Cracklescape, Twelfth Planet Press). After congratulating her on her win, she was very gracious in letting me take a photo with her and even let me hold one of her awards (eeeekkkk! – how exciting!)

Margot Lanagan - and two of her awards!

Margot Lanagan – and two of her awards!

Other award winners included Best Children’s Fiction (told primarily through words) for Brotherband: The Hunters by John Flanagan (Random House Australia); Best Children’s Fiction (told primarily through pictures) for Little Elephants by Graeme Base; Best Young Adult Short Story for ‘The Wisdom of Ants’ by Thoraiya Dyer (Clarkesworld); Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel for Blue by Pat Grant (Top Shelf Comix); Best Collection for That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote by K. J. Bishop (self-published); Best Anthology for The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume 6 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books); Best Horror Short Story for ‘Sky’ by Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls, Twelfth Planet Press); and finally, Best Science Fiction Novel for The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (HarperCollins).

There were just so many fabulous writers in attendance, that I couldn’t possibly name them all. I managed to exchange a few words with steam-punk author Richard Harland (author of Song of the Slums, Worldshaker and Liberator – there’s a great author interview with Richard at my friend Maureen’s blog ‘Ink Ashlings’, here.), and also the beautiful Cat Sparks (a amazing, multi-talented woman who is a writer and editor amongst so many other things!).

Everyone was extremely friendly and it was so easy to strike up a conversation. There was no pretence, and even though I am only a fan quietly working on a first manuscript, I found that the community was very welcoming. The fantasy, science fiction and horror genres really have do have the best people working within their realms, that’s for sure!