Crossing the Streams

27 08 2014

The goat-city of Medellin was an architectural marvel, the jewel of the Alps.

One morning, a trader arrived at the city gates, his cart laden with wares. The scheming trader knew of the goats’ legendary fondness for fine clothing, not as raiment but as dietary fibre. Accordingly, he had poisoned his entire inventory, thinking not only to grow rich through honest commerce, but also acquisitive of much valuable and newly-vacated real estate.

But he had reckoned without societal change. For the youth of Medellin now followed a deity which held that clothing was not for consumption, but for the concealment of hirsute goaty nakedness; and thus it was that much of the trader’s toxic freight remained undigested, and  was instead worn and washed, and thus rendered harmless.

Inevitably, a fair few of the city’s older billies and nannies were stuck in the old ways, and enough perished in suspicious fabric-related circumstances that it became obvious the trader’s shipment of clothing was to blame. The trader was accordingly arrested, his capture witnessed with considerable interest by several representatives of the younger generation, themselves clad in the very outfits with which he had hoped to engineer their demise.  The young goats stood and watched as they raised their front hooves in obeisance towards their deity. As the trader was led away, he was heard to raise his voice in complaint to those he held responsible for his capture, “I would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you Medellin kids and your god!”


It may be of comfort to some people — not least my publisher and my editor — that the above work of fiction is not destined to appear in the upcoming Difficult Second Album. It may be puzzling to other people as to why I have titled this post ‘Crossing the Streams’. The explanation which I will offer — and it may appear, on first pass, to be inadequate, though I assure you it is not — is that I, personally, have never played a character of the name of Jonas Sulk.

If there is a circle of hell set aside for paronomasiacs, then I suspect I may well be in serious trouble. Particularly if whoever’s in charge of it isn’t too fond of cutesy pop-culture references.

And another one

25 08 2014

My Titan story ‘Lakeside’, which is, depending on how one counts these things, either the third or the fifth of my Titan stories (it’s the third one written, but the fifth one published) has been accepted by Perihelion SF, and will apparently see the light of day (or what, I suppose, passes for ‘day’ upon Titan) sometime in October. I’ll provide updated linkage at the appropriate time.

For those interested, this is the first of these stories in which I’ve re-used a protagonist. Åke Garrity, the aviation-obsessed teenager from ‘Broadwing’ (which aired in the Christchurch earthquake charity anthology Tales For Canterbury, published by Random Static — I believe the antho had a limited run and is now out of print) is front-and-centre in ‘Lakeside’ as well, as he makes a disturbing find near the shores of Ontario Lacus.

(I suppose this means I’d better try to claw out some time to get some more writing done. Now. how do I achieve that?)

Quick spot of updatery

12 08 2014

It slipped my mind to mention it at the time, in the welter of Use Only As Directed interviewage that you may have noticed around these parts recently, but I have myself been interviewed as part of the Aussie Specfic Snapshot series for 2014.

And I’ve just learnt today that Aurealis has accepted my planetary-ecosystem-exploration novelette, ‘Like a Boojum’, for publication at some unspecified time in the future. Since the story is set some unspecified time in the future, this seems eminently appropriate. (It’s appropriate on another level also, since my very first sale to Aurealis, ‘Latency’, was another planetary-ecosystem-exploration story in the same sequence, although the two stories have no characters in common.)

The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Michelle Goldsmith

11 08 2014

Authors are a strange lot … by which I mean it can, perhaps, be unfair to judge them on the basis of the stories they write. This can be especially true of writers whose work tends towards the dark. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve only read two of Michelle Goldsmith‘s stories, and both of them are fairly dark. One of them, ‘The Climbing Tree’, is in Use Only As Directed, the anthology that Edwina Harvey and I co-edited this year, and it’s this story that Michelle is going to be telling us about a bit further down the page. But the point I was wanting to make first, having met Michelle at Continuum where we launched UOAD, is that she’s a much less scary person than her stories would lead you to expect …

Anyway, here’s Michelle now (looking very relaxed, I must say, about what might well be a dangerous botanical backdrop):

Michelle Goldsmith

What should readers know about you before they sit down to read ‘The Climbing Tree’?

I’ll refrain from thrusting my entire biography upon people before they read my story. That way if it’s not their thing they can more easily forget who wrote it and won’t have to avoid me at conventions. However, if they love it they should by all means google the bejeebus out of me. I’d just ask them to kindly skip over any photos taken before 2012 and any that obviously involve having imbibed too many alcoholic beverages (in my case, that means any more than one).

‘The Climbing Tree’ is fairly different in style to my previously published work. Firstly, it is told in first person and is much shorter (usually I have trouble keeping stories under 5000 words).

I am still a relatively new writer and am currently trying to push myself outside my comfort zone and try new styles and subgenres. I am reasonably comfortable with a certain type and style of story. However, I want to improve and diversify my writing and that won’t happen without trying new things. Hopefully readers enjoy the results.

Most of all I would like readers to know that I appreciate them taking the time to read my stories.

What provoked you (or, if you’d rather, encouraged you) to tell the story you did? What was the germ of the idea that led to it?

A number of different motivations came into the creation of this story, actually.

When I was young, my friends and I had our own ‘Climbing Tree’ outside my house. Luckily for us, our tree was rather more benign than the one in the story. The single strange thing about it was that every so often over the years every there would be talk of cutting it down and replacing it with a more conventionally attractive plant. However, for some reason this never happened.

Even after my father became ill and we moved interstate I got a letter from a friend saying that she had asked the new owners of the house about the tree. Apparently, they said they were going to get rid of it because it was ugly but then changed their minds and said they ‘liked it there’. I’ve since lost contact with people from that stage of my life but I like to think that if I returned to Canberra I would find the tree still standing there, waiting for me.

Other aspects of childhood also came into the mix. Certain things become obscured over the years but others remain as clear as yesterday. Fantasy and reality also seemed far less distinct as a child. You would find ways to explain the terrible or disturbing things that happened in ways that made sense to you. The creepy old man who followed your friend home from school was clearly an agent of a supernatural nemesis. Your dad’s illness was clearly a plot by that same nemesis to force you to move away because you and your friends were onto his plans.

But what if the stranger explanation was not so clearly false in hindsight? I’ve known people who, as children, reported real circumstances to adults and were disbelieved. In many ways the main story in ‘The Climbing Tree’ is not the events that happened, but their impact on the protagonist and the way they echo down the years.

In essence, ‘The Climbing Tree’ is a relatively simple tale when it comes to plot. This gave me the opportunity to play around a bit with narrative voice, description and recollection. For instance, my protagonist remains unnamed and ungendered. They could be anyone, and in many cases readers seem to fill in the gaps themselves. I wanted to experiment with this but felt it would run the risk of irritating more readers in a longer, more plot-complicated story. It’s actually quite interesting to hear people talk about the story after reading it and hearing what assumptions they made about the POV character.

Whether I succeeded in making all this work in the story is for each reader to decide though!

If you were told you were only allowed to keep one sentence from the published story, what sentence would that be, and why?

‘At night I hear children’s laughter and the rustling of leaves.’

This sentence pretty much embodies the point of the story to me. It also reminds me of moonless, windy nights spent tucked among blankets and listening to the howling of the elements outside.

‘The Climbing Tree’ reads as a fairly closely-observed childhood recollection, you’re trained as a biologist, and some of the outcomes in the story are, let’s say, without wishing to get spoilerish about it, ‘suboptimal’ for those concerned. Should we be looking at opening up a cold-case investigation on this matter?

I’m not sure we’d have much luck getting a confession from the tree itself. You’re welcome to try though. I’ll just wait here.

Actually, after my partner read the story he turned to me and said ‘Why did it do it? Was it hungry?’ Knowing me, he has decided that it is the tale of the discovery of a new species of carnivorous plant, and that I probably think it is misunderstood and will soon try to campaign to preserve its habitat. Or that I secretly want to feed it people who misuse scare quotes on signage.

What are you currently working on, and what would you like to tell readers of this blog about your current endeavour?

At the moment I’m balancing my fiction writing with my day job (as a writer and editor for a number of business-to-business industry magazines), a Masters in Publishing and Communications and the general ‘life stuff’ that builds up for us all because life rudely refuses to pause while we are writing. I also have a chronic illness, but I am doing a lot better since my last surgery so my ‘downtime’ is much less frequent. All this means that I’m not quite as fast and prolific as I’d like to be!

I always have a lot of different works in progress. This is probably partially because I find I can revise my works much more effectively when I have a break to work on something else between drafts. It gives me time to distance myself so I can look at my own work in the persona of an editor rather than the writer.

Recently I finished revising a post-apocalyptic SF novelette that essentially chronicles the fall of the human race. However, it is framed as the journey of self-discovery of a confused AI who thinks it’s doing the right thing. It is an odd story, was quite challenging and has gone through a number of revisions. It was probably pretty ambitious for a relatively new writer as it has a rather large scope. Also, if the dark humour doesn’t quite hit the mark and adequately emphasise the problematic elements of the story readers could walk away with completely the wrong idea. I’d rather not have people think I am advocating colonialism because I failed to critique it effectively! Luckily I have a good writing group to point these things out and had the guidance and encouragement of my mentor, Kaaron Warren, to help me keep at it. I feel it is working much better now and hopefully it’s ready to go off seeking a home.

I also recently finished the first draft of my first attempt at a YA story, which involves a teenage protagonist with the head of a raven. It needs some revision, but I’m pretty sure I have its number down now.

Other than that, I have another story (an odd mix of weird fiction and alternative autobiography) out on submission and have a few new stories plotted out and ready to tackle. I also plan to get back to my novel draft after semester ends and have a go at finishing it. It’s more along the lines of an epic fantasy but with some weird elements worked in.

All in all, I’m not short on ideas, I just need the time to write them.


The other story of Michelle’s that I’ve seen, and it’s a corker, is her novella ‘Gold and Dust’ in ASIM 60. If you’d like to learn more about Michelle’s writing, or about her reviewing, her website is

If you’re now feeling motivated to read ‘The Climbing Tree’ and the other stories in Use Only As Directed, the links are here: (PBB (publisher, pbk, epub, pdf, mobi); Amazon (mobi)).

I’ll post any further interviews in the series as they come to light.

One possibly-misguided act of homage

9 08 2014

I’ll start with some explanations.

There is, below these explanations, a work of fanfiction.

This work of fanfiction is intended purely as homage to the work of Tove Jansson, since it just so happens (as noted in my previous post) that August the 9th, 2014 is the centenary of Tove Jansson’s birth. In essence, I’ve written a ‘Moomin’ story. It goes without saying that this is done without any thought of personal gain, and with every intention of treating the subject matter respectfully and in a manner which, I hope, does not damage the reputation of Tove Jansson in any way. (I would also note that, since the story uses elements from at least two of the books as backstory, it probably won’t make a lot of sense to people who aren’t familiar with the Moomin books themselves. If you fall into this category, please do yourself a favour and go and buy the books – the central canon comprises Comet in Moominland, Finn Family Moomintroll, The Exploits of Moominpappa, Moominsummer Madness, Moominland Midwinter, Tales from Moominvalley, Moominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November – because they are utterly brilliant, and magical in a way that no other children’s fiction manages to be. In my humble opinion, at any rate.)

I’ve called my attempt at a Moomin story ‘The Last Hattifattener’. I’ve made no pretence at trying to match Jansson’s written style (or, as I know it, the style imposed through her various English translators), though I have made some efforts to keep some similarities in sense of humour. I don’t have Jansson’s deftness with emotional tone and clarity of characterisation, but I’ve tried to muddle through as best I can. I’ve aimed for something that feels at once next-generational – Tove Jansson’s writing has provided an inspiration to many writers since (as well, of course, as entertainment to a great many readers) – and a bit elegiac, since she is, alas, no more.

I’ve written this because I’ve felt a compulsion to do so. And it’s a long-running compulsion: thirty years ago, I very much wanted to be able to write stories in the style of Tove Jansson; I’m happy enough, now, realising that I can’t … but I’ve felt it necessary to explore the conceit of the attempt. Which you will find below.

Is more explanation required? Or do I run the risk that, in over-explaining, I bleach all life from the thing I’m trying to explain? The essence is this: the story is offered in homage; it has acknowledged imperfections; if it in some manner helps to spark someone’s interest in Tove Jansson’s writing then I will consider that it has served some useful purpose despite those acknowledged imperfections.

So. Below the cut, one possibly-misguided act of homage.

Read the rest of this entry »

What? No Google doodle?

9 08 2014

It’s the 9th of August, 2014, which makes it exactly 100 years since the birth of Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. I would’ve thought this was something eminently worth commemorating, but then again, what do I know? Nonetheless, Internets, I am disappoint.

I’ll have more to say on the subject a bit later. Of the centenary, that is, not the Google doodle.

The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Doug Van Belle

6 08 2014

It’s a little disconcerting to realise that I’m not 100% sure how many of Doug Van Belle‘s stories I’ve edited now: I believe ‘Uncle Darwin’s Bazooka’ is the fourth of them, but it’s just possible that it might be the fifth. In an ideal universe, of course, I’d get up and check, but who has the time? And so, instead, onward full-pelt into the eleventh of the interviews with the Use Only As Directed authors …

So, without further ado, for your reading pleasure, Doug Van Belle:


(The picture, by-the-way, is not author-supplied; it results from a trawl of teh intermanets, and dates, I believe, from Aussiecon in 2010, which was the first time I’d met Doug in the flesh, us normally residing on opposite sides of the ditch and all that …)

What should readers know about you before they sit down to read ‘Uncle Darwin’s Bazooka’?

All that stuff that THEY told you.  Lies.  All lies.

What provoked you (or, if you’d rather, encouraged you) to tell the story you did? What was the germ of the idea that led to it?

I wrote the story because desperately needed the $40.  Back in my 20s I developed a pretty bad mortgage habit and no matter how hard I try, I just haven’t been able to kick it.  $40 keeps me going one more day.

The germ of the idea was literally a germ.  Plagues and viral gene transfer leads to the mechanisms that viruses use to hijack the reproductive systems of bacteria which leads to sexual reproduction starting as a viral parasite etc.

If you were told you were only allowed to keep one sentence from the published story, what sentence would that be, and why?

It’s probably be one of the ones you cut out while editing the story.  You’re mean and I know you cut that stuff just to hurt me.

If I’m not mistaken, you’ve had one or two screen-based projects in the works recently. Is there anything you’re able to tell us about those? What has the process been like?

I can tell you that studios are very serious about what they call information embargoes.

The one project that isn’t currently embargoed is Johnny Ruckus.  We shot the pilot at the end of last year and it is in the possibly eternal process of pre-distribution marketing.  Regardless of what happens with that particular show, it led directly to a feature film project.  That film is in the possibly eternal process of pre-production, but it led directly to a second feature film project.  And that has wandered off into possibly eternal hinterlands kind of stuff, but it did lead directly to feature film project #3, which has escaped purgatory and is moving ahead with surprising speed.

Sounds kind of like building a castle in a swamp, doesn’t it?

As far as process goes, it’s basically a Monty Python takes Douglas Adams through the looking glass kind of thing and I have found that the best way to approach it is to pretend that you’re a contestant on a game show where your challenge is navigate the not quite random but totally mandatory “suggestions” from a seemingly endless parade of people who stand between your script and the first day of shooting.

The slightest whiff of a tax incentive shifts the setting to literally anywhere in any universe, real or imagined.  This step is repeated often and at random times during the process.

The rumour that an actor might maybe possibly be interested in a certain kind of role will cause any character to suffer an urgent radical regenderization so the producer can get the script in front of him/her yesterday.

A marketing survey leads to a rewrite that takes it from an M to PG rating.  Top to bottom rewrite.

The realisation that the marking survey was for an American release, not a British release completely flips the balance between blood and naughty bits in that PG rating.  Off for a top to bottom rewrite.

An investor is found, but he has a thing for race cars, so you have to add race car driving to the space ranger’s skill set and shift the setting from Mars to Daytona.

That mucks up your tax break, so you have to shift the setting to that really famous car race in Madagascar to get a different tax break.

A government bureaucrat applies his own special interpretation to a criteria for that new tax break and you have to find a way to spend five days filming in his sister in law’s abandoned coal mine and make it seem totally natural to the story.

Finally, a director is hired, but he/she wants to stamp his or her “creative vision” on the the project.  You soon discover that “creative vision” is entirely defined by finding an excuse to offer the lead to the hottest possible actor who is desperate enough for a part to sleep with said director.

Some guy on the crew knows someone at HBO who can totally get a spin-off show going there.  Top to bottom revise back to an M rating.  Change all mentions of costume detail to “full frontal nudity”  Change all adjectives in dialogue to “fucking”

Find out guy on the crew was high.  Revise back to a PG.

Director liked all the “Full frontal nudity” parts, revise back to an M, but put real adjectives back in dialogue.

Two key members of cast discover that nothing in their contracts will get them out of full frontal nudity so they suddenly discover scheduling conflicts.  One cast member is replaced by Sylvester Stallone, causing a second radical character regenderization and necessitating the hiring of an English-Stallone translator to rework dialogue.  Second key cast member is replaced by an animated wombat so she can call in her lines while “shooting” a film in Iceland.  Top to bottom revision.

Director is surprised to discover that wombat inclusive sex scenes are generally frowned upon in civilised countries. Rewrite all sex scenes.

Discover that someone on the cast got knocked up way back at the start of pre-production (see creative vision) and you either have to rewrite the ninja, spaceranger, race car driver into a pregnant ninja, spaceranger, race car driver, or revise for the director’s new “creative vision”

Director’s new creative vision was hired from Disney.  Director goes to jail.

Hire new director.

Repeat as necessary.

OK, it isn’t really like that at all, but sometimes it seems that way.

I think it feels that way because as a writer of print fiction you control 98% of the final product.  Even the cuts Simon makes just because he’s mean, are run by you for at least some degree of your approval before it is finalised.  But as a screenwriter you control maybe 70%, probably less, of what the audience experiences and you have to anticipate that as you write.

The result is minimalism to an extreme.  A producer will literally make a spreadsheet with every detail you put in the script about every character and every scene and that spreadsheet will list when and how each detail pays off.  You can have a few in there that get listed as “Tone setting” but most have to be absolutely necessary.  If you mention an axe in a scene description, somebody better get hacked up before the film ends.  If it is an old theatre, you have to resist your instinct to give the details that show it’s old and instead simply state that’s “It’s an old theatre and shabby theatre.” and trust that location scout, the props people, the set builders, etc. will get the job done.

And there’s no real way to learn it, other than by doing it.  All the seminars, books and other things you might turn to in a desperate but futile attempt to learn something about screenwriting are absolute crap and generally do more harm than good.  Basically, everyone goes on an on and on about structure, and screenplays are indeed highly structured, but structure is the 4th or maybe even 5th most important thing in putting together a screenplay.  Once you start working with a producer you discover that the only reason all the books, seminars and film school instructors obsess so much about structure is because it is easy to teach.

What are you currently working on, and what would you like to tell readers of this blog about your current endeavour?

Working on a lot, actually, but can’t say what except for the short film ‘Breathe.’  When a space station suffers a catastrophic failure, nine people end up trapped in a refuge that can only recycle enough air for four.

‘Breathe’ will be my first directing job and it is intended to spin up into a feature, so some wishing of luck etc. would be nice.

The other thing I can mention is that have have had a brief discussion with Larry Niven regarding the film adaptation of his Gil Hamilton stories.  I have $4Million of the budget arranged, all I need is the remaining $6Million.  So maybe check behind the couch cushions and see what’s lying around and get back to me.


When Doug is complaining about how mean I am as an editor (and I’m curious that it was me who was singled out for that description, with my partner-in-crime Edwina Harvey getting off scot free) he’s actually a pretty good writer, and I’m looking forward  to seeing his screen output as well. I’ve read the script on which ‘Breathe’ is based, and I think it has the bones of a very promising movie. And I’ve posted previously about Johnny Ruckus and the possibly-stalled Orion 66 ... and a movie based on the Gil Hamilton stories would be intriguing. But alas, I have teenagers who check behind the sofa cushions far too regularly for me to amass anything like that amount of money …

If you’re now feeling motivated to read ‘Uncle Darwin’s Bazooka’ and the other stories in Use Only As Directed, the links are here: (PBB (publisher, pbk, epub, pdf, mobi); Amazon (mobi))

I’ll post any further interviews in the series as they come to light.



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