A spot of signal-boostification

15 11 2016
The powers-that-be at Peggy Bright Books have alerted me to the following, which I’m passing on for your edification and delectation:
Peggy Bright Books is having a November E-book Giveaway and Summer sale!
We have 5 e-copies of our latest titles, Walking by Sean O’Leary, and The Tame Animals of Saturn by Adam Browne to give away.

To enter the draw, just send an email to editor@peggybrightbooks.com stating which title you’d prefer, and what format. Both
Walking and The Tame Animals of Saturn are available in mobi, epub and PDF versions. (NB: due to the large number of illustrations in TAOS, these are large files: 2MB–7MB).

Entries close 25th November, 2016.

Our two anthologies, Light Touch Paper Stand Clear (featuring stories from Joanne Anderton, Adam Browne, Sue Bursztynski, Brenda Cooper, Katherine Cummings, Thoraiya Dyer, Kathleen Jennings, Dave Luckett, Ian McHugh, Sean McMullen, Ripley Patton, Rob Porteous, and Anna Tambour) and Use Only As Directed (stories by Stephen Dedman, Dirk Flinthart, Dave Freer, Michelle Goldsmith, Alex Isle, Lyn McConchie, Claire McKenna, Charlotte Nash, Ian Nichols, Leife Shallcross, Grant Stone, Douglas A Van Belle, Janeen Webb, and M Darusha Wehm), are only $AUD15 each (including postage within Australia) until 23rd December.
Support Australian small press and get yourself a bargain!

Some much-delayed updatery

1 03 2015

It’s been — gosh, look, is that the time? — a shamefully long interval since my last posting on this here corner of teh interwebs, and there are a few items of news, which I shall run through:

1) I’m delighted to see that Charlotte Nash‘s excellently dark deep space yarn ‘Dellinger‘,* which saw publication in last year’s Use Only As Directed anthology (which I co-edited with Edwina Harvey, and which, as I believe I may have mentioned once or twice, is published by Peggy Bright Books), has been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award in the Best Science Fiction Short Story category. (And she gets to double-dip, because she also has an unrelated story, ‘The Ghost of Hephaestus’, shortlisted in Best Fantasy Short Story.) Go Charlotte!

(In a more general sense, it’s good to see other noteworthy names among the shortlistees, and I wish all of the entrants the best of fortune.)

2) I’m also delighted, and more than a little gobsmacked, to discover that my collection Difficult Second Album: more stories about Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell has also been Aurealis Award-shortlisted, in the Best Collection category. (The competition comprises Lisa Hannett, Rosaleen Love, Ian McHugh, and no less than three Angela Slatters, which is pretty formidable company; I wish them all the best of luck.) And I’m also grateful for the editorial interventions of Edwina Harvey, who ensured that the collection pulled its textual socks up and washed behind its metaphorical ears and, in short, made sure that it was in the best possible shape to venture its way out into the wider world.

2a) I’ve been somewhat remiss, by the way, in failing to report the most recent review of Difficult Second Album, so I’ll do that now. Damien Smith has reviewed it for SQ Mag. I’d encourage you, as always, to follow the link for the full review, but I’ll excerpt here his summary: “in spite of any difficulties associated with stepping up and producing a great follow up collection, I’m going to come straight out and say I really enjoyed this book.

3) A couple of posts back, I mentioned that my distinctly-frivolous story ‘Insecure Alternation‘** was scheduled for publication in AntipodeanSF‘s gala 200th issue. It’s been out for a few weeks now (and in fact I may shortly need to update that link, when the March release of AntipodeanSF is rolled out).

4) Also out for a few weeks now: the latest issue of Aurealis, which features my xenobiological survey novelette ‘Like a Boojum‘, with a wonderful illustration by Lynette Watters. (I always find it a thrill to see an artist’s depiction of something I’ve expressed in word-pictures, as though I’ve succeeded in co-opting someone else into my particular delusions of make-believe.)


* In the interests of completeness, or circle-squaring, or something, it’s perhaps pertinent to point people towards the blog interview I conducted with Charlotte last year, where she talks about the origins of ‘Dellinger’, her writing philosophy, and other good stuff.

** That title, it should be noted, is in fact a fairly meaningless anagram. But since the entire story– [explanation truncated for the avoidance of spoilers]

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 www.vilutheril.com.

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.

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.


The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Dirk Flinthart

4 08 2014

There are some stories which, through sheer force of personality, more-or-less insist on taking that spot right at the end of the anthology. So it was with Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, the earlier anthology that Edwina Harvey and I co-edited for Peggy Bright Books, where Kathleen Jennings’ wonderful story ‘Kindling’ formed such a natural coda that we felt it simply had to have the last word; and so it was, too, with Use Only As Directed. In this case the obvious ‘closer’ was, in some respects, a story concerned with the first word, or events not too long thereafter: Dirk Flinthart‘s ‘The Eighth Day’, about which I’ll say as little as possible, because it’s best that you hear it from Mr Flinthart himself.

And, why, here he is now:


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

Well — nothing. Really. When I set out to tell a story, I realise it will inevitably be invested with elements of my character… but ideally, they should be organically included in the piece. I think the question ought to be: what are readers likely to want to know about me AFTER they read the story? To which I would reply, yes, I’m an atheist. And a bit of a cranky one at that. Which leads neatly to question two.

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?

Oh, that’s simple. The doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ makes me angry. The idea that somehow, all of us as human beings are fallen, failed creatures due to cock-up in communications between some Grand Creator and the ur-parents of the species roundabout four thousand years ago is just appalling. ‘Original Sin’ is nothing more than an excuse for the Church – a Church, any Church – to exercise power. It denies all possibility of personal redemption, insisting that the only legitimate path lies in completely subsuming your individual will to the desires of this Creator — as conveniently set out for you by your local church and its hierarchy.

That really doesn’t work for me. Hey – have you ever heard Patti Smith’s cover of the rock anthem “Gloria”? If not, you should. It begins with her singing in that distinctive, drawling, snarling voice: “Jesus dies for somebody’s sins… but not mine.”

That’s how I feel about it.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life. I expect to make plenty more. I’m responsible for all of them. I did it. Me. I never asked anybody else to suffer for me, and I’m not planning to ask any time in the future. I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes, and I value them all the more for that, and if others can learn from the mistakes I’ve made, so much the better. But I don’t want anybody else trying to bear those burdens for me. I earned them.

Anyway, with that attitude in mind I wondered what might have happened if — you know, if maybe Adam and Eve hadn’t cocked up in that old story. What would have been their path if Eve had stuck to instructions and rejected the apple? What would the history of humankind have been? What would our hopes and aspirations have become? When you think about it like that — well, to me it seemed like just maybe that bite of the apple was the single greatest thing that ever happened to humankind.

And that’s the story I wanted to tell.

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

Now, as for question three, and keeping just one sentence… that’s not a question with much weight in regard to this piece. I had to model the writing on the King James Bible to make it work, so it’s a long way from being “my style.” Quite a few of the sentences are lifted wholesale, or slightly restructured. But I do like the very last sentence, because to me it sums up the helpless, wordless desperation of people who want to dream of something more, something greater — but have had even the right to dream taken from them.

Writing this kind of story always makes me feel that I should check that the house’s lightning rod is in good order, and that I should maybe invest a better grade of surge protection for the home computer. Did you have any notable storm activity round your way while you were working on the story?

It’s pretty hard to say whether or not there was any unusual storm activity hereabouts at the time… we live on the north face of the foothills of a low range of mountains, and our bad weather comes out of the south-west, so the first we know of any storm activity is usually when the lightning sizzles down, the thunder smashes, and the lights go out. Happens several times a year; often enough that I just make sure we’ve got candles and torches on standby. (And we have a wood-heater, and a gas cook-range too. But the hot water is electrical. That can be a problem. Still, usually they get the power back on within a couple of hours.)

I really am a thorough-going atheist, though. (Go ahead. Smite me! See if I care!) I’d prefer not to be. It would be nice to think that somebody, somewhere was prepared to take responsibility for this whole, awful mess. Nicer still to think that when I finish floundering around down here in the mud and the crap, there will be an opportunity to sit back and reflect in peace for a while. That would be pretty cool. Unfortunately, I can’t actually see any real evidence in support of those lovely ideas, and I’m pretty solidly convinced that when I finally take the dirt nap, that’ll be the end of Mister Flinthart. I just hope I owe a lot of money to the banks or to other equally rude and unpleasant institutions when it happens.

(On the other hand, there IS some interesting evidence emerging to suggest the possibility that this entire universe is nothing more than a complex simulation. Which is fantastically interesting, if not much more comforting. I mean… what do you suppose happens to your average computer-game character once the power’s switched off?)

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

And what am I doing next? Oh, jeez. It never stops, really. I’m trying to organise myself to do my second dan grading in ju-jitsu. Ideally, I’d eventually like to do third dan, and then design my own curriculum for training. I mean, it’s okay to teach the curriculum of the school/style that I’m with, but I’d really rather use a curriculum which reflects my own personal understanding of the art, in a form relevant to the 21st century. I’m also doing a Masters in creative writing through the University of Tasmania — studying literary theory of genre, and writing excessively complex poetry. (Currently at fourteen thousand words in ottava rima form.)

Then there’s the usual raft of short stories, moving slowly as always. There’s some talk of gathering a collection of them. That would be fun. Oh! And I’ve been working up a few more of the old Red Priest stories. That character needs to be out and about more. I’m sure of it.

And yes, finally, I’m wrestling with the sequel to “Path of Night“. The title of the next book in that series is “Midnight in Chinatown”, and features more Night-beasts, some kung fu vampire types, and a lovely set-piece sequence involving hideous creatures of night and horror and Sydney’s famous Mardi Gras.  I’m hoping I can get it done by the end of the year… and I’m aiming to make it as much fun as the last one was.


This is the second of Dirk’s stories I’ve had the fun of editing (the other is ‘Head Shot’ from ASIM 54), but I can pretty comprehensively recommend anything he’s written, and lament the fact that, so far as I know, there isn’t currently such a thing as a collection of his short fiction, because such a thing would be a bloody good book … as, of course, is Path of Night, for which you can find the link in the previous paragraph.

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

There are still a few more interviews to follow in this set, but I’m currently unsure when we’ll get to them. Stay tuned …

The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Janeen Webb

3 08 2014

In quite possibly the same sense that Janeen Webb, whose story ‘Future Perfect’ is the penultimate one in Use Only As Directed (the anthology edited by Edwina Harvey and myself), saw her own short-story collection Death At The Blue Elephant released the same weekend that UOAD was launched, I’ve recently learnt that her interview for the anthology is also a doppelganger of a sort, since she has also very recently been interviewed as part of the Australian Speculation Fiction Snapshot for 2014.

Here are Janeen’s comments on how her story came to be:


What should readers know about you before they sit down to read ‘Future Perfect’?

That’s a difficult question. At the end of the day, the story has to speak for itself. But, if pressed, I will say that my own world view is complex: for me, there are no black and white answers – so my stories tend to explore life’s uncertainties. I am interested in people: in the process of writing I drop my characters, with all their emotional baggage, into unconventional  situations – just to see what they will do. They  often surprise me. I hope they’ll surprise you too.

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?

The brief for Use Only As Directed seemed perfect for a story about medical technology. I was playing with the ‘prevention is better than cure’ scenario, and I set out to create a machine that would take accident victims back in time just far enough to avert their catastrophes – to make their accidents unhappen, so to speak. But I couldn’t get the technology to work convincingly. So I turned the story around to make this failure into a feature, and it became an SF crime story – ‘Time Machine’ meets ‘Hustle’ – with the flawed machine at the centre of the scam. The idea is that the reader will see the con, but the target characters do not – they are too busy being important to imagine that the underlings they have trampled upon might be plotting revenge. If you’ve ever had a narcissistic numpty for a boss, this story is for you.

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

I can think of a lot of ways to answer this question. In the end, I’ve decided to go with something simple:

“He (Nigel) was as trapped as the white mouse.”

Why? This works for me because the entire story of ‘Future Perfect’  is an extended game of cat and mouse. The basis for the plot is a laboratory experiment, and the story twists and turns as the protagonists negotiate a very dangerous maze.

Your collection Death At The Blue Elephant (Ticonderoga Publications) was released the very same weekend as Use Only As Directed. What has the reaction to the collection been like, so far?

So far so good: it’s early days yet, but the response to date  has been very positive. The people who’ve been kind enough to write to me have all chosen a different story as their favourite, so that’s a good sign (my own favourite is the last one in the collection, The Sculptor’s Wife, but what would I know?). I’m truly delighted that this collection is out: Russell Farr at Ticonderoga did  a fantastic job of producing it;  it has a fabulous Nick Stathopoulos cover; Pamela Sargent wrote a wonderful Introduction; and the inimitable Russell Blackford launched the book at Continuum. Thanks guys!  I’m heading off to London to promote the collection at Worldcon, so fingers crossed.

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

Writing is a slow process for me.  I always have several unfinished stories on the drawing board, waiting for inspiration and opportunity to come along.  I have promised to finish the third book in my YA series, The Sinbad Chronicles, so I guess that’s next. I’m a bit superstitious about saying anything much about work-in-progress, mostly because such things have a habit of never going to plan – so I’ll just say that I’m out here, quietly writing away whenever I can.


If you’d like to find out more about Janeen’s writing — and I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention the other story of hers it’s been my pleasure to co-edit, the distinctly unsettling’Hell Is Where The Heart Is’, in the CSFG Next anthology of last year –her website is at www. janeenwebb.com.au.

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

Tomorrow’s interview: Dirk Flinthart, ‘The Eighth Day’.

The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Lyn McConchie

2 08 2014

If I’m not mistaken (and it’s entirely possible that I am, for the grey matter is getting distinctly less pristine with each passing year), Lyn McConchie‘s contribution, ‘Fetch Me Down My Gun’, was the first one that Edwina Harvey and I received for Use Only As Directed. It’s a story sufficiently timeless that it takes me back to the sort of things I was reading as a child — and I mean that in an entirely positive sense.

Lyn’s another of these writers, like Dave Freer yesterday, who really require no introduction. (The cat, if I’m not mistaken, is called Thunder, and is an ocicat.) I’ll just segue straight to Lyn’s words on the process of the story’s creation:


What should readers know about you before they sit down to read ‘Fetch Me Down My Gun’?

I like reading westerns as well as reading them, and as I am also a very long-time SF/F reader, it’s fun now and again to combine them.

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?

The song I used. I ran across it on a folk music site while chasing something else entirely, read the song, and it sparked the story whole, pretty much exactly as it reads.

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

I haven’t the faintest idea. But possibly, if i had to choose, then the final one.

‘Fetch’ is very much a story of two parts. Did you already have both parts when you sat down to start writing it, or was that part of how the story unfolded for you?

As I say, the story sprang into my mind complete as it stands. What you read is what I got. (My subconscious leads its own life entirely and at times I’m merely being hauled along.)

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

In january this year Wildside Press in America published my collection of new Sherlock Holmes short stories (Sherlock Holmes:Repeat Business). Reviews have mostly been very good and sales have been good too. I tend to write what i like reading, and finding that people liked Repeat Business encouraged me to do more in that canon. I’m writing a double of two short Sherlock and Watson books as a result and having a great time doing so. If they also sell it’ll be the cherry on the top.


If you want to learn more about what keeps Lyn busy, be that writing or rural self-sufficiency, her website is at www.lynmcconchie.com.

If you’re now feeling motivated to read ‘Fetch Me Down My Gun’ and the other stories in Use Only As Directed, the links are here: (PBB (publisher, pbk, epub, pdf, mobi); Amazon (mobi))

Tomorrow’s interview: Janeen Webb, ‘Future Perfect’.

The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Dave Freer

1 08 2014

Dave Freer‘s story, ‘Never More’, is the seventh in Use Only As Directed, the anthology that Edwina Harvey and I co-edited earlier this year. Dave sent through two photos in addition to his interview responses; the other photo was more conventionally informative, in an author-depiction sense, but the shot which I’ve included below, which Dave mischieviously captioned ‘The Gullfriend’, seemed somehow so appropriate in view of his UOAD story (despite the gull / raven nonequivalence problem) that I simply could not pass it by.

Rather than attempt clumsily to offer an introduction for someone who, I suspect, has written rather too many novels to nowadays require any introduction, I shall hand proceedings over at this stage to Dave himself. I must, however, acknowledge a small debt of gratitude: for if Dave and I had never conversed over the subject of his story’s possible inclusion in UOAD, I might have gone to my grave without ever having learnt of the delightful mass-market publishing concept of the ‘goat-gagger’. (But that, perhaps, is a tale for another day …)*


What should readers know about you before they sit down to read ‘Never More’?

The sequence of my DNA (that’ll keep them busy while I get away).  A slightly less flippant reply: Nothing. The story doesn’t need you know or like me. It really doesn’t care. In fact careful analysis has established that very few stories give a toss. What they really care about is the reader enjoying the story.  If the reader curious about what sort of human produces a story like ‘Nevermore’ that’s a different matter. I’m an ex-ichthyologist (although I am quite wary about telling people, because my former co-religionists believe the penalty for apostasy is either death or being forced to watch Who wants to be a Millionaire until you are very, very sorry) who blundered into writing thinking he had an excellent training in creative fantasy (AKA fisheries modelling). When I discovered it was slightly more complicated if less inventive, I was just too obstinate to give up.  I live on a windswept island with 0.2 of person per square kilometer, but fortunately I am able space them out a bit further with sea.  I’m a hunter-gatherer who has encountered the 21st century, and largely told it to stuff itself. I read too much, too fast, and seem to remember most of it. I also climb cliffs. I dive for spiny lobsters and shoot fish. I do strange things under the distinct impression that they’re not strange because I do them, you lot are.  I’m not sure it adds any value to the story, but it may explain how I know what ontogeny means. I’ve had a bunch of novels published so far, in the US, some with Eric Flint and Misty Lackey. A couple have been bestsellers. A lot haven’t.

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?

You and Edwina poked me with a sharp stick and a short deadline. Seriously, Edwina chose the right phraseology. She said (and I paraphrase) Have you got anything in your trunk that would possibly do for the collection, because it is far too short a notice to ask anyone to write something. So I did. I had to make it hard for myself by deciding to work with one character… who can only say one word. There are quite a lot of meanings to that word, of course. It’s a riff on Edgar Alan Poe’s  ‘The Raven’… well, as far as the raven is concerned. When did a cat pay any attention to what it was supposed to do?

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

Really, that story has too many full stops. If you take them all out it will read much better. That’s hard. ‘As a cat he’d known rules are for people and other lesser creatures.’ Will probably have to do. Next time I shall write a pearl of sentence, instead of sticking to short ones in line with my intellect.

How are you adjusting to life in Australia? Your bio mentions something about an attempt at self-sufficiency on a Bass Strait island — would you care to expand on that for us a little?

We came to Australia – rather than several other countries because in culture and attitudes (particularly out beyond the black stump) it was easiest for us to fit into. That’s something I thought made logical sense: if you’re leaving a country because life there is becoming exceptionally unpleasant (in the case of our old country, where crime, violence and discrimination were escalating steadily, with no sign of a turn-around) there is no point in dragging the baggage of the culture that produced this situation with you. You have to leave it behind, and learn to adapt and fit in. So we set about doing that, and learning to be Australians to the best of our ability. We have found Australia (or at least our Island and the people here) easy to love, and it seems the islanders feel we’re OK – we had more than 10% of the population at our citizenship ceremony. That’s not a bad tally of friends for four years. Actually the bastards all showed up to laugh at me saying ‘G’day mate’ but I prefer my first version of self-deception.

Self-sufficiency/hunter gatherer (wry smile) look most of this has little or nothing to do with my writing (except if I write about hunting food or living off the land). It’s just a moral viewpoint of my own that I don’t expect anyone else to live by. Yes, I am a few sandwiches short of a lunch-pack. I like to grow/gather/catch/kill our own food. That way I know where it came from, how hard it was to get, what ecological footprint it had, and if it required killing that it was done according to standards I find acceptable. We’re not ‘never-buy-anything’ fanatics, the basic food groups like coffee and chocolate won’t grow here, and the processing is not simple for chocolate. Shampoo and dishwasher come from the supermarket. We just grow or shoot or catch or spear the protein, grow or gather the veg and fruit, and starches are either our own potatoes or oats or bulk bought flour. There are quite a few like us around and we tend to not so much barter as help each other out with things we can’t do or get. I give a fair amount of fish, crays, muttonbirds particularly to the older folk on the island. We tend to get a lot of cakes, some mutton and chickens in exchange, but it doesn’t really matter because it is its own reward. Your grandparents probably lived pretty much like this, except with the internet. It means I do take time when I could be writing to go out in dark with a handspear in the cold clear water, or collecting olives to preserve, or smoking my own bacon. It makes me what I am.

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

Not more than four books. I’m editing a contemporary fantasy (it’d be urban fantasy, except it is set in a rural setting. Write about what you know) involving an apparent poltergeist and a selkie and a kid who failed at being a city boy and got sent off to his loony grandmother who lives in back end of nowhere. I’m writing a whodunit murder mystery about a dead priest. I’m editing another High fantasy involving a demon-possessed sword, and slowly getting going on a novel set on a gas giant, populated by the survivors of a crashed convict ship…


If you’re curious to learn more about Dave’s writing, on subjects from dragons to mil-SF and everything in between, his website is at davefreer.com.

If you’re now feeling motivated to read ‘Never More’ and the other stories in Use Only As Directed, the links are here: (PBB (publisher, pbk, epub, pdf, mobi); Amazon (mobi))

Tomorrow’s interview: Lyn McConchie, ‘Fetch Me Down My Gun’.

(* Oh, very well. Just to ensure that I don’t have the lackeys of the Goat Defence League on my case — again — I’d better explain, as Dave did to me, that a ‘goat-gagger’ involves no actual physical gagging of any actual physical goat, so far as I know — though what goes on in the backlots of large publishing houses is a mystery to me, and may remain ever thus. A goat-gagger is just a mass-market paperback, written for summer holiday release, of such compendious spinewidth that it would prove impossible for a goat to successfully swallow. So now you know. What you do with this gobbet of information, of course, is up to you.)

The ‘Use Only As Directed’ Interviews: Grant Stone

31 07 2014

You may recollect that I introduced yesterday’s interview, in this series drawn from the stories from Use Only As Directed, the anthology that Edwina Harvey and I edited earlier this year, as a story of quite deceptive simplicity, understated in its genre elements. Such a thing can’t really be said of Grant Stone‘s story ‘Always Falling Up’, an unsettlingly kaleidoscopic slice of near-future mil-SF War-on-Terror layercake … and yet it, too, is a story which (in my opinion) get under your skin, and stays there.

Here are Grant’s comments on just what was going through his mind:


What should readers know about you before they sit down to read ‘Always Falling Up’?

Not much. Except perhaps that, although there are some gentle and humorous stories in ‘Use Only As Directed’, this isn’t one of them.

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’m a software developer and I often find myself frustrated with the way computers are represented in science fiction. I wanted to start with some ideas that are commonplace now – cloud computing and virtual machines – and extrapolate out to some technology that felt real.

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

I don’t know if this qualifies as a single sentence or not, but it’s certainly one of the oddest things I’ve included in a story. If nothing else, it pretty much guarantees there will never be an audio version:

[-]ttro 9934 points 1 week ago
A large government project full of bugs, you say?
[-]the_ghost_of_rick_springfield 235 points 1 week ago
<picard facepalm.gif>

 ‘Always Falling Up’ is certainly a story that’s likely to shake readers out of their comfort zone: it’s challenging and quite confronting. Did you know, from the outset, that it was going to be so hard-nosed, or is that just the way the words fell out?

I knew from the first scene that this would be a dark story. I wanted the story to feel chaotic and partially unresolved. I liked being able to float around the central idea of the Cains using a wide variety of different perspectives.

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

I’ve been working on a novel that may eventually see the light of day, along with a number of other short stories, novellas and a few picture books.  And of course every now and then the red phone rings and I have to suit up as part of the Cerberus writing band with Matthew Sanborn Smith and Dan Rabarts. We’re kind of like the Avengers, but with less running around and far more typing.


I should mention, in connection with Grant’s observation that this isn’t one of UOAD‘s gentle stories, he is certainly capable of showing a warmer and fuzzier side than the prickly tangle of ‘Always Falling Up’, as can be readily seen from the other story of his it’s been my priviledge to edit, ‘Better Phones’, from ASIM 56.

If you’re curious to learn more about Grant’s writing, and to learn a bit more of the Cerberus of which he speaks, his website is at d1sc0r0b0t.blogspot.com.au.

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

Tomorrow’s interview: Dave Freer, ‘Never More’.